Travis ‘stealth cars’ target aggressive driving

Souped-up Dodge Chargers cruise streets, aiming to curb road rage before it causes wreck.

Deputy Sheriff Darrell Gibson gets the sort of attention you’d expect a movie star to receive: People take his picture with camera phones, they videotape him when he stops, and as he drives by, he gets honks and thumbs-up signs.

“I am still getting used to all the attention,” Gibson said, his hands wrapped tightly around the wheel of a brand-new 2006 Dodge Charger, one of the two “stealth cars” the Travis County sheriff’s department began using three weeks ago to combat road rage and other common traffic hazards.

Gibson receives so much attention because he’s in a souped-up Charger. The four-door sedan has a Hemi V-8 engine, the same one Dodge puts in its trucks.

Sgt. Stanley Hibbs, who commands the stealth units, said deputies are looking for tailgaters, aggressive lane-changers, those who don’t signal and drivers who aren’t paying attention because they are eating or talking on cell phones.

The department picked Chargers rather than the standard Ford Crown Victorias to help the cars blend into traffic.

Both stealth cars bear an almost invisible sticker that says, “Sheriff, traffic enforcement.” The emergency lights are tucked away on the bumper, behind the front and back windshields and on the side mirrors.

“I like the fact that this car just blends in. People will pass me, screw up and then get pulled over without even realizing what they did wrong,” Gibson said.

“We are not sneaking up on people,” Hibbs said. “We are picking out people who are intentionally breaking the law.”

Road rage contributes to many fender benders in Austin, especially during rush hour, and Gibson said his main job is to stop aggressive driving before it causes an accident.

“I’ve caught the burglars, the murderers and found the stolen cars, but this job allows me to be proactive and change people’s behavior,” said Gibson, a 13-year veteran of the department. “I absolutely love my job now. It is my calling.”

Who wouldn’t love driving around a car that has a Hemi V-8 in it, asked Adam Cabello, who was pulled over by Gibson on Sept. 13.

“It is a very attractive car, but I could tell it was a cop car,” said Cabello, who received a ticket.

Michael Hemby, the planning manager for the sheriff’s department, said it spent about $75,000 on the stealth cars, which are equipped with a Global Positioning System tracker, a constant video recorder, a laptop computer and a radar device that can measure the speeds of five vehicles simultaneously.

The sheriff’s office is expected to review the effectiveness of the stealth cars in six months.

The Austin Police Department has four similar stealth cars for traffic enforcement and is slated to receive a Dodge Charger at the end of the month.

The Texas Department of Public Safety says it does not use stealth cars.

“We do the exact same thing the sheriff’s office does,” Austin police Sgt. Jason Mutchler said. “The stealth cars are perfect because drivers don’t expect them, and we need to be aware of what people are doing. It is a very good tool.”

Click here for the full story as reported by the Austin American Statesman

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