On the hunt in the police HGV
AS THE broken-down car waited for help on the hard shoulder, an HGV was approaching on the main carriageway.
The lorry drifted left and hit the car, shunting it across the road. Within moments, it had burst into flames and there was no hope for those inside. Later, PC Mark Nott explained, claw marks were found in the upholstery – and two toddlers in the back seat.
Officers believe the HGV driver's attention was distracted.
Inspector Paul Sellwood, of Kent Police's road unit, said: "If we can save one life, the whole operation is worth it.
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"There's nothing more painful that losing a loved one and that's why we do this – to prevent people getting hurt on Kent's roads."
Patrolling traffic officers are, of course, always on the look-out for law-breaking, including mobile phone use, not wearing seatbelts, drink or drug use and speeding – but using the lorry allows them to spot offending truckers far more easily.
As the Mercedes Actros made its way from the truck stop at Sevington to the M20, Laura described the first HGV operation, last autumn, which nabbed 181 offenders.
She said: "There was one driver cooking, on a little gas stove, as he drove along.
"I didn't see that but I've seen map-reading, wheel nuts so loose the wheel rolled across the carriageway – how no one was killed, I don't know – and drivers so drunk they couldn't stand up.
"It's so dangerous and so unnecessary. Everyone knows you shouldn't drink or use your phone and drive but some seem to have a total disregard for their own and others' safety."
As she paused, driver Mark broke in with one word: "Seatbelt."
An offender had been spotted. Immediately, Mark positioned the lorry to allow Laura to train her video camera on the offender.
As she captured the evidence, she radioed motorcycle officers on standby, who also swung into action to tail the van concerned.
As the offender's details were logged, Laura said: "We'll deal with anything we see. They never see you, they – slow down, slow down, phone, phone, phone!"
Capturing evidence of another driver, she added: "He hasn't noticed us – too busy talking."
Both drivers were taken to services and fined.
British drivers are given time to pay but their foreign counterparts must pay on the spot, by cash or card, or be immobilised until the money comes through.
Italian trucker Giuseppe spoke no English but used mime to try to explain that his tight-fitting seatbelt restricted his movement – but Josef shrugged and smiled as he admitted that using mobile phones at the wheel is also illegal in the Czech Republic.
Those caught are by no means all foreign. Mr Sellwood said that the common local public perception of lawless European truckers is owing to the fact there is a greater proportion of them on Kent roads – and during last week's operation, most of those caught were British.
But with more schemes planned for this year, and French and German police forces consulting Kent on the best ways to introduce similar operations, Mark and Laura are hoping that drivers of all nationalities will stop breaking the law.
Mark said: "We want to educate people, too. It's not just dishing out tickets or prosecuting, you can assess the driver and sometimes think it's worth a quick chat. Some just don't care but with others, it's ignorance or they've been told wrongly – you do get the odd light bulb moment."
Laura added: "We're being recognised already – some drivers have waved when they've seen us, which is great.
"If they know we're on the roads, and they do the same in Europe, hopefully it'll drive down the distractions and there will be fewer crashes."
The 181 offences recorded during the first such operation raised £11,000 in fines and included eating at the wheel and steering with knees, as well as vehicle defects.