Highways England has confirmed that three undercover police HGVs used to catch motorists breaking the law on the country’s motorways have recorded more than 3,000 driving offences in the last year.
The unmarked HGVs have been used by officers to film motorists using their phones at the wheel, as well as other misdemeanors as part of an operation funded by the government agency.
Among the many cases was an instance of one lorry driver snapped holding his credit card and mobile phone to make an online payment while he motored along the M40 near Leamington Spa in Warwickshire.
Police have been using the plain HGVs to catch law-breaking drivers ,as the cabs give officers an elevated position to observe and film unsafe driving on England’s motorways and major A-roads as part of Operation Tramline.
The number of offences being recorded has fallen, though, with Highways England reporting last year that undercover HGV units had caught around 4,000 drivers breaking the rules over the previous 12 months.
The unmarked HGVs will soon be deployed on the M1 motorway in coming weeks, confirmed Highways England head of road safety, Richard Leonard.
‘Hundreds of thousands of drivers use our roads every day and the vast majority are sensible behind the wheel, but some are putting themselves and others at risk,’ he commented.
‘We introduced the three new HGV supercabs last year to help keep the roads safe and tackle dangerous driving by people who have either got into bad habits or are simply ignoring the law.
‘The cabs have helped to identify over 3,000 unsafe drivers over the past year, and we hope our week of action on the M1 will encourage everyone to think about what more they could do to improve how they drive.’
National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for roads policing Chief Constable Anthony Bangham added: ‘Operation Tramline is a successful collaboration between the police and Highways England.
‘We remain committed to tackling those who take unnecessary risks with their own safety and the safety of others on our roads by allowing themselves to be distracted while driving.
‘The consequences of these actions are often devastating.
‘We will continue to work alongside Highways England on Operation Tramline and will prosecute drivers who ignore the risks.’
As well as capturing the moment a driver was making an online payment on his phone, other footage captured from the cabs included a van driver on the A38 near Derby being caught travelling on a major route using his phone with no hands on the wheel.
Another driver of a pick-up truck was filmed using both hands to compose a text message as he travelled on the M60 near Eccles, Greater Manchester.
Tom Cotton, the Road Haulage Association’s head of licensing and infrastructure policy, said: ‘We need to improve road safety.
‘There’s a small minority of drivers whose actions endanger other road users, often with tragic consequences.
‘Operation Tramline is an invaluable initiative to help police catch the drivers putting themselves and others at risk.’
Highways England also revealed other concerning stats from the undercover operation.
It said that around one in three of the drivers filmed breaking the law by the cabs had someone in their vehicle not wearing a seat belt.
This was the most common of all offences captured by officers and a worrying statistic considering a record number of road casualties reported in 2017 were found to not have been buckled up.
The second most common offence was drivers using hand-held devices at the wheel – despite tougher penalties for those being caught.
The Department for Transport doubled punishments for drivers using their phones, meaning increases of penalty points from three to six and fines jumping from £100 to £200 since March 2017.
Police issued 462 penalty charge notices and filed 2,533 traffic offence reports, which usually require someone to attend a driver education course.
There were also 73 prosecutions for more serious offences.
David Beckham was last week banned from driving for six months after a member of the public photographed him using his mobile phone while driving a Bentley in London’s West End.