‘Most people have no idea what speed they are doing’

It’s Easter Tuesday, just after 10am, and there is a steady stream of traffic travelling along the 30mph zone on the built-up Ballyquin Road in Limavady.

The sunshine has lured people outside. Kids are running on the footpaths. Mums are pushing prams and pet owners are walking with their dogs.

More than 400 metres away, by the rear entrance of the former Gorteen House Hotel, a silver-coloured speed camera van with yellow and orange chevron markings on the back doors is parked on the roadside. From as far away as the mini roundabout, between two schools, it can detect speeding drivers.

Most people behind the wheel are within the speed limit this morning, in the high 20s or low 30s but, as soon as they see the speed camera van, they immediately slap their foot on the brake. Their speed drops dramatically; in some cases to 15-16 mph.

They weren’t speeding to begin with but, as Insp. Haslett explains, many drivers have no idea what speed they are actually doing.

“It’s simple inattention, for whatever reason, and it’s unacceptable,” he said. “Most people have no idea what speed they’re doing and once they see the van they brake and panic about the speed they were doing.”

On Tuesday, two drivers who were clocked doing 39mph and 43 mph will, within 14 days, receive notice of their breach and be given the option of taking a £60 fine and three penalty points or, providing they qualify, attend the driver awareness course.

Ballyquin Road is one of several “hot spots” in the Limavady/Dungiven area. Other areas of concern include Killane Road, Limavady; Chapel Road and Legavallon Road in Dungiven and the 30mph zone in Bellarena.

The camera safety operator on duty on Tuesday explained he can sit at sites for up to three hours. Some days he can detect up to two dozen speeding drivers while on others, like Tuesday, less than a handful.

“The lens is a 400-metre lens but you can detect drivers in excess of 400 metres because there is a times-two converter on it. You try and get drivers as close as you can because you want a clear picture of the car, the registration number and sometimes a picture of the driver,” he explained.

“Cars are coming towards to you and you form an opinion of the speed and you target the laser, which is lined up with the cross hairs on the number plate as best you can and pull the trigger. It will give you a speed reading and, if they are over the limit, it will automatically be registered on the tape and if they are not speeding it won’t be registered at all.”

Referring to the driver clocked doing 64mph on the Ballyquin Road back in January, he said: “That 64, if that’s an accident that will kill. I am shocked at some of the speeds in this area. I mean you can’t miss the van and the road is clearly marked with speed cameras signs. I always say, if you don’t speed you don’t have to worry about being caught. It’s as simple as that.”

Later in the day, around 3pm on the Foreglen Road at a layby near the Ballyhedin Road, traffic officers dressed in bright yellow, flourescent jackets catch five drivers speeding using the hand held laser guns. In the last year, there have been 253 such detections in the Limavady borough.

On Tuesday, those detected speeding were doing 77mph up to 91mph. All the drivers apprehended, including two mums with kids immediately apologised but, on other days, those apprehended aren’t so up front.

Officers say they are often accused of not being clearly seen; that they’ve been hiding behind a lorry or hedge. They also say a lot of motorists stopped often have no idea just how fast they were driving.

“It’s always someone else’s fault,” said Insp. Haslett. “The guidelines for police are very clear - they should be very visible. I ask all my officers to be wear yellow jackets when they are on patrol, which is also for their own safety,” he explained, “but the primary issue is about stopping people speeding before they commit the carnage. Some people use it as an excuse and say ‘you were hiding’ or ‘I couldn’t see you’ but, at the end of the day, it doesn’t take away from the fact they were speeding. I will deal with the officer who is not compliant, but we will continue with the speeding offence.”

He added: “People have to look in the mirror. The child that’s running out onto the road in front of you will not be in an assigned area wearing a fluorescent jacket when you’re driving at an excess speed.”