Drug driving, fatal collisions and slowing down drivers - a day in the life of the traffic cops in Scarborough

Often much-maligned by drivers, what do traffic cops really do, I rode along with one to find out...

Friday, 7th February 2020, 10:42 am
Updated Friday, 7th February 2020, 10:44 am

Driving around in a marked police car is like being in a bubble.

You don’t see people discreetly texting with one hand on the steering wheel, or chancing an amber traffic light, or rummaging around in a bag only half looking at the road ahead.

As soon as they spot the fluorescent blue and yellow markings on the BMW 3 Series I’m a passenger in, everyone is on their best behaviour.

TC Jamie Lord on patrol in Scarborough. Picture: JPI Media/ Richard Ponter

My escort for the morning is TC Jamie Lord who has been working in roads policing in the Scarborough and Ryedale district for the past four years.

Before that he spent 15 years as a constable working in response at Scarborough police station.

“I was always drawn to roads policing,” he said. “My dad was a traffic cop, and you obviously want to be like your dad.

“I like cars and I like bikes and it does feel like you’re making a difference.

A table showing the road traffic collision data in the Scarborough district.

“It’s nice to be able to sit in a village so drivers reduce their speed and help that community out.”

Speeding is what I imagine a lot of people think of when they hear the words traffic cop, but since the introduction of safety camera vans policing speed on our roads is now a small part of their workload.

Traffic cops are a specialised team – they must take a three-week advanced driver course which includes night driving and traffic law.

They also spend a week learning pursuit driving and those like TC Lord who also ride motorcycles must spend five weeks on focussed bike training.

Traffic officers are highly trained drivers. Picture: JPI Media/ Richard Ponter

The Roads Policing Team are trained to constantly assess risk – to themselves, the public and anyone they’re pursuing – and they will pull back from a pursuit if it becomes too risky, though TC Lord admits to do so can be frustrating.

He explained almost everything the team does is to increase safety and reduce collisions.

“Attending a fatal collision and speaking to their family afterwards is a horrible thing to have to do,” he said. “If I can come to work and go home and there’s been no accidents then I’m happy.”

His work is as much preventative as it is punitive and a lot is about educating drivers.

Observing traffic. Picture: JPI Media/ Richard Ponter

“People might not necessarily know what they’re doing is wrong, they might have picked up bad habits.

“They’re more likely to take a bit of advice if you chat to them.

“It doesn’t necessarily benefit people to go to court.”

What does he think is the biggest misconception the public hold about traffic police?

“Probably that we’re there to give tickets out to fund our Christmas parties,” TC Lord said. “And that we have targets to hit for the number of tickets we give out, both of which aren’t true.”

In fact, one of the biggest problems the team face in Scarborough is drug driving, in particular drivers testing above the legal limit for cannabis and cocaine.

Graphic showing drug driving offences in Scarborough and Ryedale.

“People think it’s strange that there’s a legal limit for illegal drugs but there has to be a specified limit to negate accidental use of a drug,” TC Lord said.

He explained the limits are very low and accidental use could be someone absorbing small quantities of drugs through touching a surface covered with residual amounts of cocaine, or walking past someone smoking cannabis and breathing in the smoke.

By far the hardest part of any traffic cop’s job is dealing with fatal collisions which, like all serious crime, have a wide reaching effect.

“When I think of the death I have seen compared to the average person then there’s no wonder I’m so passionate about roads policing,” said TC Lord.

“If I never have to go to another fatal collision again it would be brilliant but that won’t happen.

“It does have an effect on you and I see the effect it has on family, friends and the community.”

He described how when the Roads Policing Team share their work on Facebook, someone will inevitably comment ‘why aren’t you out there catching proper criminals?’.

“Apart from murder and serious assault, the roads are the main place people lose their lives but people don’t seem to view it in the same way,” he added. “If you didn’t have roads policing officers, fatalities and serious injuries would be sky high.

“We are needed and we are effective.”

TC Jamie Lord in Scarborough. Picture: JPI Media/ Richard Ponter