How unmarked HGV is catching dozens of dangerous drivers in the West Midlands
As covert operations go, it is hardly the most subtle.
But this truck is, in fact, the country’s biggest undercover police vehicle – and one of the most effective ways of catching dangerous motorists on the region’s motorways.
The Express & Star was granted exclusive access as officers from the Central Motorways Policing Group (CMPG) used the truck to snare unsuspecting motorists and lorry drivers who flout the law.
We joined officers from the West Midlands, Staffordshire, and West Mercia police partnership on Operation Tramline as it patrolled the M42, M5, and M6.
Our photographer, assuming the job of ‘spotter’, teamed up with PC Jay Hussain in the covert cab as two unmarked police cars followed behind at distance.
Setting off from CMPG HQ under the M6 in Perry Barr, we headed down the M6 towards the M42.
And it wasn’t long before the first offender was in our sight.
Using the truck’s elevated position, our photographer spotted a driver with no hands on the wheel – his left arm was outstretched on the passenger headrest while the other was resting on the door window frame. The unmarked police cars were alerted and the driver, in a VW Caddy, was pulled over.
The driver, Warren Bowles of Milton Keynes, told the E&S: “I have a condition and was stretching and didn’t realise I didn’t have a hand on the wheel.
“I drive for a living and it is just a habit.
“I did see the police officer but didn’t think I was doing anything wrong – I didn’t realise it was an offence but I understand.”
Police wrote up a traffic offence report of the incident which will be processed and a decision will be taken whether the 41-year-old should be sent on an education course, sent to court, or issued with a fine.
Back on the road and after 15 minutes the benefit of the cab again became obvious.
This time an Italian truck driver was photographed blatantly using his mobile phone in his right hand while his left hand rested on the edge of the steering wheel.
Once alerted, an unmarked Audi pulled in front of the truck with blue lights flashing and a LED display on the rear window instructing ‘Follow Me’.
The truck was taken off the M42 to a safe stopping location at a service station.
The driver did not speak English and required the officers to call a translation service. He was fined £200 on the spot and issued with six penalty points.
Foreign drivers flouting British road laws are a challenge for the force. Over the next hour two more motorists were caught – this time by officers in the unmarked estate cars.
One man driving a VW Transporter was spotted using his phone. He was stopped and fined £200 and issued with six points.
He already had 12 points on his licence – enough to trigger a ban.
He will now have to attend magistrates’ court where a ban is almost inevitable.
Then a white Mini was stopped after the officer spotted a woman driving with a mobile gripped in her hand but with both hands on the wheel. She was stopped and given words of advice as she had not been witnessed using the phone.
Over the course of nine days, 91 people have been caught by the truck for road offences – 56 for using their mobile phone at the wheel. The operation is run in conjunction with Highways England and the truck is used by forces across the country.
Chief Inspector Jed White of CMPG said: “Once your phone pings there is a natural curiosity to look at it. Ninety nine times out of 100 that information is nonsense – don’t pick it up. But it is not just mobile phones.
"We have had people with their feet up on the dashboard lots of times while on cruise control, we’ve had someone shaving, someone eating their breakfast out of bowl, we had one lorry driver making a sandwich on the centre console.”
Ch Insp White is happy to publicise use of the truck to help educate the public even if it meant revealing police tactics. He said: “We want people to know we are out there.
“We are being upfront and if people read this and it regulates their behaviour then great.”