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Harold's avatar

Do the highway police in your area try to save lives, or collect money for the government?

Asked by Harold (4075 points ) August 27th, 2012

Below is a letter I sent to my state members of parliament. This will explain my question. How do you see the actions of YOUR local highway police?

Dear Mr Gay and Mr Gallacher

I appreciate the efforts you both go to in order to make the policing of NSW roads fairer and directed at dangerous driving, rather than at minor technical breaches of the law. Unfortunately, it appears that this message is not getting through to some officers, as an incident last night illustrates.

Last night, 25 August 2012, I attended a concert at the Sydney Entertainment Centre. I parked my car in the adjacent carpark. At such an event, one expects delays getting out of the carpark, but the delays experienced seemed extraordinarily long. When we finally made it out through the boom gates, we saw the problem; the traffic lights were only letting two or three cars at a time out on to the main street (Darling Drive) before changing back to red. The traffic on the main street was sparse (being around midnight),

As I approached the intersection, the lights turned to orange, and I proceeded to turn left on an orange light, which I believe that I am entitled to do. There was only one vehicle waiting at the lights, and my actions were perfectly safe. As I proceeded along Darling Drive, a police vehicle came up behind me, and indicated for me to pull over, which I did. This police vehicle came out of nowhere, and the only place he could have been watching from would have been the alcove to the side of the driveway leading out of the carpark, which tells me that he must have gone through a red light in order to pursue me. At no stage did he operate his lights and siren until he indicated for me to pull over, so he must have gone through the red light in a most dangerous fashion.

The officer claimed I had gone through a red light, when it was clearly orange. This incident is worrying from a number of perspectives:

Officers hiding, rather than being a visible deterrent, which is proven to be the best deterrent to dangerous behaviour.
This officer going through the red light with no emergency lights or sirens, and then accusing me of going through the red light (which I didn’t). If it was supposedly dangerous for me, it was more so for him.
It appears that the traffic lights at this intersection have been set up in such a way that the police know hiding near them will reap the rewards of fines for them. Fining drivers should not be the aim- deterring them from dangerous behaviour should be.
This officer was most unreasonable, and certainly not a good advertisement for the force. He had his prey, and was not going to let it go.

I have worked in hospital emergency departments for many years (since 1983), and have attended to many victims of road trauma. I see the results of dangerous driving, and I am a safe driver myself. My record of never having an at fault accident since obtaining my licence in 1981 is proof of that. I support policing of dangerous driving, but this type of police behaviour is a joke. I hope that you can intervene, and stop this kind of behaviour. Diminishing the respect of law abiding citizens for the police force is no way to improve road safety.

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13 Answers

Seek's avatar

In America (in Florida particularly, I suppose), we have entire fleets of unmarked cars whose sole purpose is to hide in plain sight and fine citizens.

Yeah, it’s insane.

wonderingwhy's avatar

A little from column A, a lot from column B.

It used to be fairly common to see them on the sides of the highways, frequently with lights on, particularly on long straight stretches near on/off ramps. To me that was an effort at safety – they were ensuring high speed traffic slowed down and became more alert near spots where there was a lot of intermixing traffic types. Now I can go a couple days without seeing a marked car and usually only see what I described if someone’s been pulled over. Meanwhile the number of unmarked cars has gone up steadily. I’ve hear the argument that unmarked cars and their threat slows down everyone just as effectively; perhaps that’s true somewhere, but any daily commuter can tell you that effect is, at best, minimal here. The only traffic slowed by unmarked’s are the cars in their immediate area due to those who’ve spotted them. Furthermore, when I first got my license it was pretty common to get stopped for more than 5 over on the local roads and 10 over on the highway, depending on traffic. Now it seems those limits have moved to around 10 local and 15 highway. I doubt it’s coincidence that the ticket for those speeds has nearly doubled where as the sub 10 ticket has remained nearly unchanged and that the enforcement of penalties for > 20 (which is about 3x a ticket that’s <20) is, at least colloquially, the new target on highways.

The only reason I can come up with for that is a focus on catching a larger minority of people at a higher cost to the driver rather than ensuring the majority of people drive in a safer manner. Even when I do see them they’re typically making an effort to hide, setting speed traps, rather than sitting exposed and slowing the general flow of traffic. Granted, budget cuts may make this more cost effective particularly with limited resources, but these types of changes were evident when departments were still flush and and growing and budgets protected and increasing.

A similar change has happened with local roads/cops as well. And aside from schools where they are positioned for clear view even in areas where speeding isn’t a problem, speed cameras are almost always hidden and positioned for maximum capture volume – even when those spots aren’t necessarily the areas where speeding would be most dangerous. Of course, the cameras are even more of a joke as everyone hits the breaks just as they come up then hits the gas as soon as they’ve passed their range.Oh, and let’s not forget that speed cameras don’t actually tag the driver, only the registered owner of the vehicle, and can’t add points to your record – because it’s all about safety. Now though, as opposed to previous years, they no longer talk in depth about safety when they seek funds/permission to place new cameras – instead you hear about the cost and department budgets, cuts, and needs – with the token slathering of “this technology saves lives and frees up officers for other priorities”.

SavoirFaire's avatar

I find it to be a 90/10 split in the US, with the 90 being officers concerned with fines and the 10 being officers concerned with saving lives. The very first time I was ever pulled over was at the age of 18. Leaving aside the fact that I had not actually done what I was eventually ticketed for (running a stop sign), the part of the incident that astounds me is that the officer came to my window with his gun out and kept it pointing at me the entire time. As anyone who has learned to shoot will know, you always assume a gun is loaded—as his certainly was—and only point it at someone when you are willing to kill them. It was beyond shocking, to say the least.

fremen_warrior's avatar

Poilcing in Poland has actually improved over the last few years. I barely get pulled over once a year or so, and they try to give you the lowest necessary ticket if caught speeding. It’s really actually the parking metre regulations that are making our lives miserable nowadays. They have recently expanded the pay to park zone around the city centre where I live – a broader radius and longer duration +2 hours. The Police are actually great, it’s the city officials that make living here a real pain in the a$$...

elbanditoroso's avatar

I am going to disagree totally from the prevailing view.

Two of my family members are policemen; one of them is a motorcycle officer in my county, while the other is a patrolman who rides in a police car. The motorcycle officer is primarily on traffic duty (highways and near schools) and occasionally on ceremonial duty (funerals, parades, etc.)

My family members tell me that they dozens of unsafe drivers every day – and they ticket them. Sometimes it is for texting while driving. Sometimes it is for 50 in a school zone. Sometimes it is for having children in the car not strapped in a child seat. Sometimes it is for women putting on eye shadow while on their cell phones driving at 70 mph. And so on and so forth.

There are an incredibly large number of incredibly dangerous drivers out there, and my family members are clearly trying to keep the roads safer.

It’s very hard to accept that 90% of the policemen in your state are only out for the money. I just don’t buy that.

Coloma's avatar

My county here in California is a premiere wine tasting area and the local cops are notorious for looking away from all the wine tasting tourists puttering along, half crocked, from vineyard to vineyard. We are a tourist community based primarily on wine tasting, white water rafting expeditions and camping/outdoor recreational pursuits. Harass the wine tasters and tourists and lose revenue. It’s that simple.

Unless someone is swerving all over the road in their grape induced confusion they are left alone.

wilma's avatar

Both.

JLeslie's avatar

Both. Here where I live they have installed an insane amount of traffic cameras at intersections, and from what I understand they cause more accidents than prevent. People are more likely to stop short than push the yellow/orange. The safest remedy for people who push through a yellow or even break through the red is a couple second delay before the perpendicular road at the intersection gets the green, and indeed we have a delay. They just want to collect revenue in my opinion with these cameras, not make driving safer.

I can remember driving home from DC to Maryland when I was younger after being out clubbing. I say highway patrol drive right past people driving too fast to those who were weaving. They focused on the drunk/sleepy/reckless drivers, not the people driving 10 or 15 MPH over the speed limit. I don’t know how it is now there. They did set speed traps on slower secondary roads in every state I have ever lived. Maryland was big for getting you if you did not come to a complete stop at stop signs and right turn before red (right side driving). I think stopping is important, I see people here where I live now in Tennessee roll unsafely through stops all the time. But, coming to a complete stop is not always important depending on visibility, especially if you have waited behind another car and had full visibitlity before getting to the intersection. Some judgement on the cops part is welcome.

My husband was given a ticket here for 5 MPH over the speed limit on a road nearby. Everyone told him if he goes to court the judge will throw out the ticket since it is only 5. WTH point is there in writing that ticket? Frustrates drivers, takes up the courts time, wastes paper, wastes the time of the people who schedule the courts time, and the cop is ticketing the wrong person.

Possibly the intersection you were ticketed at has had some bad crashes or fatalities and they are ramping up citing people so people will stop pushing the orange light. Laws vary in America depending on the state. When the light turns red and someine is out in the intersection, the person in the intersection has the obligation to clear the intersection. However, some could argue they should not have been waiting in the intersection, it depnds on local law, and somewhat on local driving custom.

Bellatrix's avatar

I live in Queensland @Harold. I drive from Brisbane to the Gold Coast multiple times a week. I see evidence of shocking driving habits. Tailgating, people weaving through traffic and the like but it is very rare I see the a police presence with the exception of the speeding camera vans and a very occasional highway patrol car. Revenue raising does seem to be the order of the day and I’m not expecting a change soon. Campbell needs money and he is going to get it anyway he can by the looks of things. Speeding ticket anyone?

Harold's avatar

Thank you all for your thoughtful answers. I guess that there are good and bad practices everywhere. I totally agree with the points that @elbanditoroso makes, and these types of behaviours need to be stopped. I just think that if the police exercised some discretion, they would get better public support in their efforts.

Coloma's avatar

@Harold Welcome to fluther and yes, corruption is abundant everywhere, it can drive you to the brink of insanity if you let it.

Symbeline's avatar

I’ve heard that in Qu├ębec, highway patrolmen actually have a quota of tickets they need to give per day. As @Seek_Kolinahr mentioned, they also stay parked in places, waiting for someone to speed or wtv. I’m not confirming it, but it’s what I heard.

Harold's avatar

@Symbeline – Yes, I am sure they have quotas here in Sydney too.

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