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Improving driving standards on main roads in Essex

Police are using an unmarked lorry in a campaign to improve driving standards on main roads in Essex.

Two officers have been trained to drive the cab section of an HGV to crack down on truckers and car drivers who are distracted by using mobile phones or other devices while driving.

The higher seats of a lorry are proving to be ideal vantage points for looking into the cabs of other trucks or looking down on car or van drivers.

In two recent incidents a lorry driver was seen typing on the keyboard section of an iPad resting on his steering wheel while another trucker was seen writing on an A4 notepad at the wheel. Both drivers were prosecuted for not having proper control of a vehicle.

Dozens of other drivers have been stopped for using mobile phones or not wearing seat belts.

Lorry safer driving campaign

Photo: Pc Winfield returns to the police lorry as a uniformed officers talks with a driver stopped for using a mobile phone while driving

The crew of the police HGV also deal with general policing matters and will assist in major operations such as those against metal theft and as part of their patrols on the A12 they will be keeping watch for any suspicious activity near bridges in the Chelmsford area where objects have been thrown on to vehicles during previous winter months.

PCs Al Cuthbertson and Gary Winfield, both members of the Essex Police commercial vehicle unit, have both obtained HGV licences to drive the police lorry.

Pc Cuthbertson at the wheel of the police lorry

Photo: Pc Cuthbertson at the wheel of the police lorry

While one officer drives the other keeps watch from the passenger seat and uses a radio to pass information to other officers on motorbike or in cars to stop offending drivers.

The grey Mercedes Actros tractor unit has been owned by Essex Police for many years and is normally used to haul a large trailer converted as a mobile control centre used at major incidents or events.

The lorry has no police markings, but has a distinctive number plate A12 EPD, originally obtained for its usual role at public events. PCs Cuthbertson and Winfield do not wear full uniform when on board and wear fleeces over their usual police issue shirts.

“Although it has been nicknamed the ‘plainclothes lorry’ there is nothing secret or covert about the truck,” said Adam Pipe, Essex Police’s casualty reduction manager.

“It is being used for road safety and general policing patrols and is especially useful for keeping an eye on lorry drivers and motorists who are not driving safely or are breaking the law by using phones and other devices or not wearing seat belts.

“It has been a real eye-opener to see the results of the HGV patrols because police in cars or motorbikes cannot see in the lofty cabs of lorries. In just two days of operations the HGV has seen lorries being driven at 50mph or more while the drivers are clearly distracted.

“In one case a driver was writing notes on an A4 pad resting on the steering wheel while negotiating the bends on the A12 at Ingatestone. If the truck had gone out of control the consequences could easily have been fatal for the lorry driver and anyone driving towards him on the other carriageway.

“We are extremely concerned at the way drivers are being distracted at the wheel, especially with the massive increase in the use of smart phone and iPads. There have also been reports of some continental lorry driver watching TV or films while driving.
“We are determined that through patrols with the HGV we can reduce the dangers of commercial drivers taking liberties and putting innocent lives at risk.”

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