Police get a better view of reckless drivers from unmarked “spy lorries”

Added: 10 May 2021

Police get a better view of reckless drivers from unmarked “spy lorries”

Applying makeup, brushing teeth, watching videos, and doing paperwork are among the bizarre activities of drivers seen by police from the elevated position of an HGV “spy” truck.

Several police forces have been using lorries to catch dangerous drivers since a pilot in 2015.

In a recent undercover operation by the joint Surrey and Sussex Roads Policing Unit, a team of police officers took to the road in an unmarked HGV supplied by Highways England and were shocked by the variety of reckless ways in which drivers broke the law.

More than 300 different offences were committed by 285 drivers over nine days, in plain sight of shocked officers.

They included not being in proper control of a vehicle, driving on the hard shoulder, driving without due care and attention, and seatbelt offences.

Careless motorists were handed 23 Fixed Penalty Notices, 155 Traffic Offence Reports and 104 ‘words of advice’.

Out of the 86 offences for not being in proper control of a vehicle, the majority involved drivers interacting with maps on mobile phones.

Chief Inspector Michael Hodder, head of the joint Surrey and Sussex Roads Policing Unit, said: “Using unmarked vehicles including the Highways England HGV cab allows us to catch those putting not only their own lives at risk, but also those around them.”

Sussex and Surrey Police's Roads Policing Unit plans on carrying out similar operations more regularly, as six members in their ranks have recently obtained their HGV driving licence.

Sergeant Kellie-Anne Harris, of the Commercial Vehicle Unit, said: “The higher vantage point the HGV cab gives us is incredibly useful when it comes to looking down at what drivers are up to in their vehicles which might otherwise be obscured at ground level.

“Along with 65 uses of a mobile phone, 43 seatbelt offences and 25 speed offences, we saw some truly staggering things like someone using their elbows to steer, a man watching music videos and a woman doing her makeup in lane four of the M25.”

Chief Inspector Hodder added: “Drivers shouldn't become complacent or take risks purely because they can't see a marked police car on our roads, or they think we can't see what's happening inside their vehicle.”

The three-month trial in 2015 included forces in Surrey, Hampshire, Sussex, Thames Valley and Warwickshire, in conjunction with the Highways Agency.

An unmarked HGV was driven by a police driver with a second officer videoing offenders from the elevated vantage point. A support team of two police motorcyclists and a marked police car stayed in touch with the undercover lorry to stop and deal with the errant drivers.

The trial led to the detection of 462 offences, including evidence of a driver brushing his teeth, another reading a newspaper in slow-moving traffic and another drinking from a beer can.

During the trial, 179 drivers were stopped for mobile phone offences, 126 for seatbelt offences, 68 not being in proper control of vehicle, 18 for driving without due care and attention and 17 for speeding.

South Yorkshire Police has uploaded videos of drivers caught by HGV police vehicles — and they include other HGV drivers.

In one video, officers can be seen spying on a truck driver who wasn't wearing a seatbelt and was driving at high speed while holding mobile phones in both hands.

The officer says: “This truck [driver] here to the left of us, he’s got a mobile in his left hand, a mobile phone in his right hand, with no seatbelts on. Absolutely oblivious.”

More than 2,000 people were killed or seriously injured because of a driver being impaired or distracted on England’s motorways and major A-roads over the past five years.

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