Force borrows buses to gain 'perfect vantage point' of distracted motorists
West Midlands Police (WMP) has launched a ‘first of its kind’ road safety initiative with officers using a double-decker bus to film drivers using their mobile phone at the wheel.
Operation Top Deck, launched by the force’s Road Harm Reduction Team, aims to educate offending motorists about the “potentially devastating” consequences of using a phone while driving.
When a plain clothes officer on the bus spots a ‘distracted driver’, details are radioed to police motorcyclists, who divert the offenders to a designated site where they are shown a “hard-hitting” virtual reality video.
Bus passengers have also been encouraged to support the operation by supplying their own video evidence to the force via a dedicated self-reporting site.
After Operation Top Deck was launched on Monday (September 17), officers caught 45 motorists using their phone at the wheel in just a few hours on the A34 Birmingham Road.
Thirteen of those – who were using devices in stationary traffic – were given on-the-spot education input and warned they would face prosecution should they be caught a second time.
West Midlands Police said the remaining 32 face a £200 fine and six points on their licence.
One man was caught using his phone while he was on his way to a speed awareness course and a woman was prosecuted for driving without due care and attention after officers spotted her eating from a bowl of cereal in her lap.
PC Mark Hodson said using mobile phones while driving was proven to be “as dangerous as drink-driving”.
“It can devastate lives and people need to understand this isn’t acceptable,” he added. “We want to create a credible, constant threat of prosecution to induce wholesale driver behavioural change and make our roads safer.
“The buses are ‘borrowed’ from National Express and will look like any other bus in service – but they will be driven by Safer Travel officers who are qualified bus drivers and the passengers will be police officers or police community support officers equipped with video cameras.
“Buses give us a perfect vantage point into cars and also the cabs of lorries and trucks. Offenders will be given a roadside educational input on the dangers of distracted driving and also face the prospect of a hefty fine plus six points on their licence.
“We will look at particular circumstances, but there will also be some drivers, ones who’ve been particularly reckless, who we will charged and take to court.”
Operation Top Deck was launched to coincide with this week’s National Mobile Phone Week, in which traffic officers across the country will be targeting distracted drivers.
Although the initiative is the first of its kind in the UK, other forces have used HGV lorries to help officers spot drivers using their phones.
Between April 2017 and March 2018, 990 people were killed or seriously injured on roads in the West Midlands – during the same period 1,251 motorists were prosecuted for using phones while driving.
West Midlands police and crime commissioner David Jamieson, who was Transport Minister when the original ban on driving while using a mobile was introduced in 2003, said: “The reason the ban was introduced was to keep the public safe.
“Motorists who use their mobile phone while driving are four times more likely to crash. This campaign is about saving lives.
“Those who continue to use their mobile phones whilst driving are in a minority, but they put the lives of every road user at risk.
“I am glad West Midlands Police is leading this campaign. It will help us stop drivers who choose to endanger not only their life, but the lives of other drivers and pedestrians.”