By Jacob Mutisi IT IS now common to see everything from donkey- or ox-drawn carts to combine harvesters and other ramshackle and downright dangerous vehicles on our highways worsening the condition of Zimbabwe’s already terrible road conditions. We now have millions of poor or untrained drivers and a near absence of police to enforce traffic rules. All these add up to making a simple drive to work something out of the Fast and Furious franchise. The cheapest way to bring sanity is to adopt the use of drones as a law enforcement tool.
Zimbabwe drivers were well known to be the most disciplined due to the no-nonsense approach of the Zimbabwe Republic Police traffic officers. We used to have the best equipped highway patrol teams which used to issue the “280 traffic ticket”.
This is a ticket that was issued to a traffic offender which had to be paid within seven days, failure of which meant when caught you would spend time in a police cell and attend court the next day advising the court why the ticket was not paid. The offender would only be released if he/she paid the required fine otherwise further punishment would be imposed.
This is the time for our traffic officers to initiate the use of drones targeting dangerous drivers and those breaking the rules of Zimbabwe’s roads. ZRP Traffic does not have resources to empower the local force to have enough eyes on the roads to stop bad drivers. There is now a need to deploy drones to give our traffic police officers a mobile eye in the sky, allowing them to scan large areas in a short time.
In Zimbabwe, when it comes to catching law-breaking drivers, the police should use any technology legally and financially available to them. That means Zimbabwean drivers will have to watch out for fixed and mobile cameras, average speed cameras, marked and undercover cars, and even top-of-the-range helicopters and sometimes, even police airplanes timing us over a stretch of road. This is the time for the police to empower officers to start using drones to film reckless drivers in the hope the footage can be used in prosecutions. An average drone, hovers 100m above the road, and is particularly effective at tracking drivers who beat the red traffic light, drivers who stray over lane markers, tailgate and commit dangerous driving offences.
However, the drones are as yet to be able to track the speed of a vehicle or determine if the driver is using a cellphone. Cellphone use is the number one cause of car accidents in Zimbabwe.
A drone is very useful because it can see dangerous drivers on the roads without being seen by the drivers. Using drones is the cheapest form of surveillance; even cheaper than the use of motor vehicles to nab traffic offenders. A drone has a clear view of the traffic flow with the policemen not visible but watching from a secret location.
A drone is defined as an unmanned aircraft and is also called unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) or unmanned aircraft systems (UASs).
Essentially, a drone is a flying robot that can be remotely controlled or fly autonomously through software-controlled flight plans in their embedded systems, working in conjunction with on-board sensors and GPS.
A drone is fitted with high definition cameras and thermal imaging technology and is also used to help the police to rapidly search large areas for vulnerable missing people, manage critical incidents, locate suspects known to be hiding in a specific area and capture aerial images to assist in major incidents and events such as providing live feeds direct from football games and protests.
In a ground-breaking project, the British Metropolitan Police used drones between July 22 – 26 this year to support the gathering of intelligence and evidence to try and crackdown on dangerous drivers.
The drones were specifically aimed at road users engaged in dangerous driving rather than targeting all speeding motorists. The devices would relay information to officers on the ground, who then dealt with the culprits.
Drones in the UK are also being used by police in London to catch speeding drivers. The drones can operate at both high and low altitudes and have a night-vision function.
They are being used to identify only those driving dangerously. The footage is passed to officers on the ground, who will pull over the offending motorists. The aim is for the drones to be active on major routes where speeding offences are more common.
Furthermore, drones can be used to encourage safe driving. So far, the Metropolitan Police has deployed drones to monitor road users. The focus of the force is not only on drivers who put people’s lives at risk, it is about deterrence as well as catching dangerous motorists.
According to Detective Superintendent Andy Cox, the head of the Metropolitan Police’s Roads and Traffic Policing Unit: “This is one of many enforcement tactics being used. Its aim is to deter dangerous driving, and we hope the message of ‘drive lawfully, stay safe and keep a clean license’ is widely understood. Deterrence is sometimes best achieved through intense enforcement, and that is what this capability enables. The focus will be on dangerous drivers who are racing and those putting their lives and other people’s lives at risk”.
Worldwide law enforcement agencies are using drones to police more efficiently. Law enforcement agencies around the world have used drones to collect evidence and conduct surveillance.
Agencies are also using drones to photograph traffic crash scenes, monitor correctional facilities, track prison escapees, control crowds, and more. With the increased use of drones both by civilians and government agencies, it is essential for the police department to craft effective drone policies.
Drones can bring sanity to Zimbabwe’s roads and stop recklessness, dangerous driving as motorists get to know that there is no impunity.
- Mutisi is the CEO of Hansole Investments (Pvt) Ltd and the current chairperson of Zimbabwe Information & Communication Technology, a division of Zimbabwe Institution of Engineers.