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Charger reins in bad drivers

The driver of a light blue Jaguar speeding and darting in and out of traffic lanes Friday afternoon had no idea he was being watched.

There's nothing about the black 2007 Dodge Charger trailing the Jaguar that would lead you to believe it is manned by a veteran Oregon State Police trooper looking to curtail aggressive driving on Interstate 5.

"It's a lot easier to blend in with the traffic in the unmarked car," said OSP Senior Trooper Bill Matson, his eyes fixed on the Jaguar as it hit speeds into the high 70s.

Matson flips on the red and blue lights fixed in the Charger's grill. The Jaguar's driver immediately pulls off the road, where he tells Matson he is on his way to visit his sick mother.

For his trouble he receives a citation for, among other infractions, failure to maintain his lane. Each ticket will cost him $242, the standard bail for class B citations.

The Aggressive Driving Enforcement Program (ADEP) uses stealth to punish drivers who use their cars for intimidation on Jackson County's highways.

"It's the fast pace of our society that contributes to many of the crashes we see out here," Matson said. "People just want to get places faster.

"The problems come when two cars go for the same spot and neither will yield. That's when we people get angry. The vehicle is a large weapon to use," he said.

OSP's Central Point office received the Charger one month ago and it's been put to heavy use.

On the first day OSP Trooper Chris Walker took the Charger on patrol a car blew by him at a cool 105 mph. That driver was arrested on a reckless driving charge, which carries a $3,000 bail, he said.

OSP uses five stealth cars throughout the state. They are decked out with the latest police gadgets, such as radar that can monitor traffic in front and behind the car.

"We are not looking for the average person out there, the speeder," Walker said. "We want the drivers that are committing two or more violations in a sequence that could contribute to a crash."

Speeding is one component of aggressive driving, Walker said. An intimidating driver will buzz into another lane without signaling, follow too close to another car in an attempt to force the other out of the way and sometimes even slam on the brakes directly in front of other motorists.

"We get some of these drivers with our marked cars, but most get away because they notice the marked car," Walker said.

Make no mistake, if you're spotted driving aggressively by the ADEP troopers you are not walking away with a warning.

"Most of what we do with this program is punitive," Matson added. "We want to educate drivers, but also make it clear that we are taking aggressive driving seriously."

So why go public with the details of a enforcement program that relies on stealth?

"We want people to know we're out here," Matson said. "Again, the goal is to educate. But be prepared if you are stopped, because it will cost you."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471, or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.

OSP Senior Trooper Bill Matson of the Central Point office is reflected in an unmarked 2007 Dodge Charger he uses to catch aggressive drivers on Interstate 5. - Jamie Lusch