Earlier today I was proceeding, at an orderly pace, in a southwesterly direction down the A3.
It was a very bright day, and as I came under the Tibbets Corner underpass I spotted a policewoman leaning over the barrier of the slip lane, pointing a speed camera in my direction.
Bugger. Was I doing 44 or more in a 40mph zone? Mounted in a bright red Saab 9-3, I figured I was right in her crosshairs.
As I rolled off down Roehampton Vale I cursed the handheld camera, which I believe should always be mounted a tripod. A perilously balanced policewomen is surely not a sturdy enough structure from which to very accurately calculate my speed.
I turned into the local petrol station, continuing to curse everything. I didn’t know it, but I was about to learn about the difference between speed cameras and traffic cops.
When I came out of the shop, the traffic cops were also parked in the petrol station. They had clocked a motorcyclist and had pulled him over.
So I approached the driver of the BMW 5-series Touring traffic car. ‘I’ve just been watching you. Don’t you think that handheld speed cameras should be on a tripod?’
To my amazement the copper opened the rear door of the car and took out the camera and proceeded to give me a guided tour of its operation. He assured me that anti-shake technology meant it was accurate.
He then handed it to me and told me to have a go at lazer-zapping passing cars. Once I’d figured out how long to hold the trigger, it was a fascinating – and not a little addictive – experience.
Then the copper really surprised me. ‘Today we are looking for people travelling at over 60mph [in a 40mph zone]. The motorcyclist was doing 67mph, which is just silly, so he’s getting a ticket and, really, he should also be going to court. However, he was not putting anyone in danger so he’ll just get a talking to instead.
Now that’s what I call policing. Professional, experienced, sensible coppers who can take a view on the spot and dispense just the right amount of justice for the conditions and the crime. And what motorist couldn’t have respect for such an approach?
Sadly, traffic cops have been out of fashion for years and the numbers have dwindled to around a 1000.
Would we rather have forests of unblinking speed cameras, run by local authorities and unable to detect drunks, druggies and tailgaters?
The plain fact of the matter is that we need to fight to keep people like Stuart Davies and his colleague on the roads and on the case.
When your local MP or councilor comes calling, take them gently by the lapels and insist that Great British Traffic policing – which at its best is a subtle combination of humour, humiliation and cold, hard points – is promptly restored to our roads.
Traffic cops are highly likely to help improve the standard of driving on our roads. Cameras never will. Unless you regard nicking drivers rolling along at 44mph on a 40mph dual carriageway as a serious road safety measure .
The current Government’s faith in dumb cameras, databases and postal justice is deeply misguided and goes complete against the grain of a deeply held British sentiment. Fair play.