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Police pioneer drone tactic to catch dangerous drivers in Devon & Cornwall

Police drone speeding car

Devon & Cornwall Police are using drones to help detect driving offences on high harm routes throughout the region as part of a pioneering new project.

The force’s drone unit is linking up with the roads policing team, road casualty reduction officers and speed detection officers to target unsafe or irresponsible driving and riding.

The operation, launched today as part of National Motorcycle Safety Week (April 3rd – 9th), will have a particular focus on motorcyclists after a spate of collisions in 2022 which resulted in the death or serious injury of more than 200 riders across Devon and Cornwall.

Operating in identified by intelligence, the drones will help calculate vehicle speed live using fixed points on the highway. They will also record live video of all incidents, meaning any dangerous or inappropriate driving will be caught on camera.

When a vehicle is detected breaking the law, details will be relayed to officers on the ground, which will allow police to check the MOT, tax and insurance status of the motorbike and whether it is reported as stolen.

Nearby speed detection officers will then use calibrated laser cameras to accurately record the speed of the vehicle before the driver or rider is pulled over by Police road casualty reduction officers.

Depending on the offence detected, the offending motorcyclist will be given words of advice, referred on to a specific training course or issued with a fine and penalty points. In more serious cases, riders will be reported to court for prosecution or arrested on the spot.

Chief Inspector Ben Asprey is Head of Roads Policing at Devon & Cornwall Police and also part of the Vision Zero South West road safety partnership’s motorcycle task group.

Ch Insp Asprey said: “Sadly last year was a terrible year for serious and fatal collisions involving motorcyclists. In 2022, 16 motorcyclists were killed on Devon and Cornwall’s roads – the highest figure in the past five years. A further 187 were also left seriously injured.

“Despite motorcyclists making up less than 1% of overall traffic, they account for roughly a third of all serious and fatal collisions in our area. But it’s important to remember that these aren’t just numbers, these are people’s loved ones – parents, sons, daughters, friends and partners – and we are determined to drive those numbers down.

“Speed and inappropriate riding have been major contributory factors in the motorcycle collisions we have attended. Travelling too fast gives you less time to react and dramatically increases their risk of being fatally or seriously injured. Many of these serious collisions have not involved any other road users, meaning inappropriate riding and motorcyclist error is also a major factor.

“Motorcyclists are already a vulnerable road user group, not least because they have considerably less protection than drivers of cars or other vehicles. Preventing any further unnecessary loss of life is our top priority.”

Devon & Cornwall Police has invested heavily in state-of-the-art drone technology, with equipment capable of operating in high and low temperatures and varying weather conditions. They are also equipped with high resolution cameras with far reaching zoom lenses.

A Devon & Cornwall Police drone operator

Inspector Colin Harper of Devon & Cornwall Police’s Drone team explained why the use of drones is a game-changer in this project.

Insp Harper said: “This innovative use of drones will give us early warning of any offences and allow us to be far more targeted in our approach on the ground.

“We will be deploying this technology on roads where we know motorbikes are travelling too fast, and also around dates and locations where motorcycle events are scheduled to take place.

“This technology can and will be used to help detect speeding and dangerous driving in all vehicles on our roads. At present, our focus is on motorcyclists who are at highest-risk according to our data, particularly at this time of year when more riders will be venturing out again after the winter.”

Vision Zero South West has made tackling motorcycle collisions a priority for 2023 with many more biker-targeted activities planned. These include engagement events, video projects, training opportunities and a publicity campaign designed to change behaviour among riders.

Serious and fatal motorcycle collisions in Devon & Cornwall since 2017

  • 2017: 15 killed – 203 seriously injured
  • 2018: 10 killed – 210 seriously injured
  • 2019: 10 killed – 209 seriously injured
  • 2020: 10 killed – 185 seriously injured
  • 2021: 13 killed – 170 seriously injured
  • 2022: 16 killed – 187 seriously injured