Pushing the speed limit? Beware the drones

Palo Alto police to use new technology to ticket speeders, spot other offenses

Editor's note: This article was posted on April 1 -- April Fools' Day. It is satire, and thus, while occasionally referencing reality, it does not represent the opinions or intended actions of any real people.

The next time you're on the road and thinking of putting the pedal to the metal, think again: The Palo Alto Police Department will soon be adding a new weapon to its arsenal -- drones that can catch speeding drivers.

A fleet of 12 quadcopters, also known as UAVs or unmanned aerial vehicles, has been ordered as part of a test of the popular technology for civic purposes, the Weekly has learned.

A city official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said that although the idea has generated some controversy within City Hall due to potential civil-liberties issues, the department is moving ahead with the $236,000, six-month experiment.

The drones will be deployed along three major thoroughfares where speeding has spiked in recent years: Alma Street, Middlefield Road and Foothill Expressway. Each drone will be equipped with a video camera, on-board speedometer and a ticket-printer and will be programmed to patrol the entire length of the city.

Once a speeding vehicle is spotted, the drone will discreetly follow it for 1/8 of a mile, video-recording it, snapping a picture of its license plate and noting its average speed. When the car comes to a stop, the drone will print out a speeding ticket and deposit it on the car's windshield.

To ensure the driver is aware of the ticket, the drone will linger over the hood until it detects the driver's eye contact, after which it will fly off.

"It's the latest method of cutting down on dangerous driving, and it's been incredibly effective elsewhere," the official told the Weekly. In cities where the drones have been used, the accident rate due to speeding has plummeted by an average of 47 percent (although, he admitted, accidents caused by people looking up at the drones while driving have increased).

As a side benefit, some towns have seen their revenues from speeding tickets skyrocket.

Clatchamoo, Oregon, launched its drone program last summer, prompted by the irritation of residents over lead-footed out-of-towners who were racing along the otherwise quiet mountain roads.

"Like bats out of hell," said Clatchamoo Sheriff Denise Barns. "They had no respect for our safety or our asphalt, so we sent the drones after 'em."

"Sure, some may call it 'Big Brother' when they're being tailed by a drone," said Barns, who heard "an earful" from people caught in the act. "But guess what? If you're doing the right thing, the drones aren't going to bother you."

Within the first month, the program netted nearly $60,000 in paid tickets, money that enabled local leaders to build a Lewis and Clark-themed water park.

As expected, Clatchamoo civil libertarians protested, citing an invasion of privacy, the dangers of a government database of surveillance video and the fact that no one asked for their opinion first.

"It was all 'Fourth Amendment' this, 'infringement' that," Barns recalled. "Finally, we had a breakthrough when someone had the bright idea to use some citation revenue to add a recreational marijuana dispensary in the community center.

"Well, that helped them to see the light," Barns said.

Among the benefits that Palo Alto police are expecting from the drone experiment are cost savings -- drones do the work of traffic cops but do not require medical benefits, pensions or doughnut breaks -- and the opportunity to re-assign Palo Alto's patrol officers to other beats, according to internal documents obtained by the Weekly.

"The traffic team could be used for higher purposes vital to the protection and safety of the city," one memorandum states, "like escorting Democratic leaders to their fundraisers and enforcing the city's ban on leaf blowers."

To ensure no one is taken by surprise by the new patrol force, publicity materials have been developed, including street signs that warn drivers, "Drone Zone ahead," and stickers to be affixed to city vehicles with the slogan, "Heed the speed. Postpone the drone," accompanied by the image of a smiling cartoon drone wearing a police badge.

If successful, the internal documents state, the drone fleet could be expanded to also target distracted drivers, litterers, cigarette smokers and residents who throw compostable materials into their black garbage carts.

Asked about the potential privacy concerns that could arise from program, Palo Alto City Manager Jim "Bo" Keane simply rolled his eyes and said he could neither confirm nor deny the existence of the experiment. However, he then said that even if such a program were to get off the ground, the impact on citizens' privacy would be negligible.

"People do realize, don't they, that we've got police-cruiser cams, red-light cams, building-security cams, officer-worn body cams, smartphone cams, Google Glass, and other ways of recording your every move?" he asked. "Really. What's one more camera?"

Happy April Fools Day!

What is democracy worth to you?
Support local journalism.


25 people like this
Posted by pedestrian
a resident of Charleston Gardens
on Apr 1, 2016 at 10:21 am

Speeding and running stop signs are so rampant in this city that we should encourage the police to use all possible technology to make our streets safer. Right now, the priority of the city is to increase traffic flow at the expense of pedestrian safety.

Saving lives is no joke.

11 people like this
Posted by bill1940
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 1, 2016 at 10:29 am

LOL ! Actually, except for following and pasting, this is a good idea. Once in London a young woman was "ticketed" because she was seen on video surveillance putting on her makeup while driving. She protested. They showed her the photo. She paid. YES!

12 people like this
Posted by Paul Goldstein
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 1, 2016 at 10:31 am

Will the drone also be equipped with a Siri who can read the perp his Miranda rights if she resists arrest?

15 people like this
Posted by na
a resident of Menlo Park
on Apr 1, 2016 at 10:33 am

na is a registered user.

April Fools!

7 people like this
Posted by Tina
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 1, 2016 at 11:00 am

This would be freaking AWESOME!

4 people like this
Posted by Daniel
a resident of Palo Alto Hills
on Apr 1, 2016 at 11:11 am

So, the drone drops off the ticket on someone's windshield when they come to a stop.

Let's say it's at a stoplight. So, now as a driver, you have to get out of your car at the stoplight and grab your ticket? What if the red light turns green and you have to get out of your car and grab it?

Meanwhile, everyone behind you is honking or impatient.

This is dangerous.

14 people like this
Posted by Resident8
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Apr 1, 2016 at 11:15 am

Resident8 is a registered user.

Nice April Fools article. Very creative and I enjoyed it immensely.

2 people like this
Posted by Barbara
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 1, 2016 at 11:19 am

What a great idea! Next, we need to do something about the thoughtless #$%^&* pedestrians who step off curbs to cross streets AGAINST the lights!! HELP is needed here.

12 people like this
Posted by Squeak
a resident of University South
on Apr 1, 2016 at 12:22 pm

Now THAT is a funny, well-written April Fool's joke!!! You even got my co-worker! First thing I said was, what's the date of the article? Yes, April 1st. HA! Love it.

17 people like this
Posted by Midtown Guy
a resident of Midtown
on Apr 1, 2016 at 12:25 pm

Wish the Weekly would do this kind of satire once a week instead of once a year!
The imaginative writing is so freaking good!

7 people like this
Posted by Ben T
a resident of College Terrace
on Apr 1, 2016 at 1:25 pm

Darn it. I got all the way to the "hovers to check for eye contact" before I realized I was being had. Well done!!

7 people like this
Posted by I wish!
a resident of Palo Verde
on Apr 1, 2016 at 3:12 pm

Omg. If only this was true. P

12 people like this
Posted by Defense
a resident of Downtown North
on Apr 1, 2016 at 3:38 pm

Glad Tesla has the anti-drone defense option available. I'm sure GM will acquire a start up providing after market counter measures.

3 people like this
Posted by May Fool U
a resident of Crescent Park
on Apr 1, 2016 at 5:48 pm

April Fools is so childish and needs to go away for good.

But what is really foolish is Palo Alto Online charging people to read these articles, and I do not mean this one specifically either.

5 people like this
Posted by Stretch
a resident of another community
on Apr 1, 2016 at 6:08 pm

Stretch is a registered user.

Darn, I liked that idea (but I live in Oregon, and there's no Clatchamoo).

4 people like this
Posted by April Foolery
a resident of Mountain View
on Apr 1, 2016 at 6:43 pm

I'm picturing the poor disappointed drone that can't ticket the speeder who has just sped across the city line without stopping.

(Kudos and thank you to Edie Torincheef! This is one of the best-written and most fun April Fool's articles I've ever read.)

4 people like this
Posted by BewaretheDrone
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Apr 1, 2016 at 7:20 pm

What we really need in Palo Alto is Drone Cross Walk Gaurds to stop all manner of distracted millenials drinking their lattes and texting while talking on earbuds from walking into the paths of cars like the universe owes them a Captain America invisible shield. We need Drones to be cross walk Nannies for these people who don't know any better that to step out into the middle of the street and stop the flow of traffic because they are so self absorbed and entitled. It's impossible to get through downtown these days in under 20 minutes.

2 people like this
Posted by Dana Raymond
a resident of Atherton
on Apr 1, 2016 at 9:46 pm

I didn't get it until I read Clatchamoo, Oregon. Knowing that no such town exists in the state, I knew something mischievous was afoot. Well done, Palo Alto Online ;)

2 people like this
Posted by scout
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Apr 2, 2016 at 3:29 pm

This is not funny as we know deep government hates us Americans.

Posted by funny
a resident of South of Midtown

on Apr 2, 2016 at 6:50 pm

Remember me?
Forgot Password?
Due to violations of our Terms of Use, comments from this poster are only visible to registered users who are logged in. Use the links at the top of the page to Register or Login.

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

All your news. All in one place. Every day.

After experiencing harassment, owner of Zareen's restaurants speaks out about Islamophobia, racism
By Elena Kadvany | 28 comments | 6,926 views

Don't Miss Your Exit (and other lessons from an EV drive)
By Sherry Listgarten | 13 comments | 2,345 views

Goodbye Food Waste!
By Laura Stec | 5 comments | 2,238 views

Premarital and Couples: Tips for Hearing (Listening) and Being Known
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 744 views

Is racism also a local problem?
By Diana Diamond | 16 comments | 422 views


Register today!

‚ÄčOn Friday, October 11, join us at the Palo Alto Baylands for a 5K walk, 5K run, 10K run or half marathon! All proceeds benefit local nonprofits serving children and families.

Learn More