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Nearly 100 drivers snared by undercover TRUCK on West Midlands' motorways in just nine days

By Rob Golledge | Crime | Published:

Police have begun using an undercover HGV truck on Midlands motorways – and have snared almost 100 dangerous drivers in just a few days.

An Italian truck driver is caught using a mobile phone at the wheel

Officers from the Central Motorway Police Group (CMPG) are using the unmarked cab to catch distracted drivers on the M5, M6 and M42.

In the first two weeks of the operation 91 drivers were stopped after being spotted for reckless acts – including 56 for using a mobile phone at the wheel.

Other offences include motorists and lorry drivers having both feet resting on the dashboard while on cruise control, eating breakfast out of a bowl, and watching films – all at the wheel.

Inside the undercover HGV cab with officer Jay Hussain

The white HGV cab allows officers to be at the same level as lorry drivers to spot those breaking the law – and look down on unsuspecting motorists in cars or vans. An officer alongside the driver is able to spot offenders and record footage for evidence.

The Express & Star was granted exclusive access to Operation Tramline, witnessing four motorists being stopped over three hours.

They included:

  • An Italian lorry driver using a mobile at the wheel
  • A businessman texting in a van
  • A mother holding her phone and using it as a Sat-Nav
  • A man driving with no hands on the wheel

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Punishments for those caught offending include warnings, fines, court appearances or being sent on an awareness course.

Chief Inspector Jed White said: “It is an initiative we run in partnership with Highways England and gives us that tactical edge.

“What we are trying to deal with is driver behaviour – and it is not just mobile phones. We have caught HGV drivers and other motorists doing all kinds of stuff.

“The vast majority of HGV drivers we deal with are law-abiding, but there is a minority – foreign and British nationals – who we have caught with both feet up on the dash board or watching a video, which is frankly ridiculous and dangerous.

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The undercover white HGV cab used to snare motorists

“The cab unit is part of our patrol strategy and gives us an advantage because not only is it unmarked but gives us a viewpoint into the cabs of HGVs, which we wouldn’t be able to do from a BMW.

“But another advantage is that we can also look down from that cab into vehicles that are lower than us, so we get a really good view of the driver.

“Most people drive around with their phone below the window-line and glance down at it, which is difficult for us to see. But we can pick up that usage quite easily from the height of the unit. We catch it on camera, officers in patrol or undercover cars are alerted, and the offender stopped and dealt with.”

CMPG is made up of officers from West Midlands, Staffordshire, and West Mercia police forces and patrols all the motorways across the region. Studies have found driver reaction times when using a mobile phone are 30 per cent slower than someone who is just above the drink drive limit – and 50 per cent slower than under normal driving conditions.

Research also indicates that drivers using mobile phones are four times more likely to be involved in a crash involving damage to property or serious injury.

The fine for being caught using a mobile phone at the wheel doubled to £200 this year plus six penalty points.

A driver is caught with his hands off the wheel

A Highways England spokesperson added: “Road safety is a top priority for Highways England.

“Doing what we can to reduce incidents on our network not only improves safety but it reduces congestion and provides more reliable journeys for drivers in the West Midlands. Our aim is to reduce the number of people killed or seriously injured on our roads by 40 per cent over the next five years.”

Ch Insp White added: “A lot of our collisions are avoidable and are caused by human error.

“Mobile phones are the cause of a lot of them.

“A lot of collisions – including those not attended to by the police – are down to mobile phones.

“Collisions occur for two reasons – one is mechanical error, the other is driver error.

“Either the vehicle has not been maintained or there’s a fault – or it is driver error.

“When we do these campaigns we are not surprised by the level of people we are catching.

“I would suggest that almost everybody at some stage has had their mobile in their hand.

“That is why we say put it in the glove compartment, put it out of reach and out of sight.

“But even then I have heard of people still unable to resist the temptation.

“It is a real problem.

“I don’t think it is getting worse but it is a significant problem.”

Rob Golledge

By Rob Golledge
@golledge_star

Part of the Express & Star special projects team responsible for investigations and major stories from politics to counter terrorism

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