By Darren Masters: firstname.lastname@example.org
Recently, Darren Masters from The Post visited the Pokeno Highway Patrol, part of Counties Manukau police at Pokeno patrol base.
I needed some answers about the road toll, speeding, driving patterns in general and wanted to clear the air about what many Franklin locals have described on social media of late as ‘disgusting’ behaviour on our roads. I also wanted to observe how these issues are policed, by going along in the patrol vehicles for the day. There was no better person to answer my questions and many more on the issue other than Sergeant (Sgt) Mark Fleming, a veteran of twenty four years of road policing.
Sgt Fleming was part of road policing in the UK for nine years before moving to New Zealand. In 2000 he was part of the Serious Crash Unit for Counties Manukau. He has been stationed at Pokeno patrol base for two years. Pokeno Highway Patrol is home to ten highway staff, and a Pokeno Community Constable. They operate six marked cars as well as a police motorcycle. The operation is seven days a week and shifts are generally from 5am-10pm. After that time, motorways in our area are patrolled by Pukekohe police or 24 hour police motorway staff.
I asked Sgt Fleming about speeding, drink driving, cell phone use and fatalities on our roads. Before many of my questions could be put forward, we were tasked to Meremere to assist a Waikato officer with a domestic dispute. We remained at that scene for over four hours with both highway officers. Essentially, their presence kept the peace in what could have potentially become a volatile situation.
Often, reading through social media, as most of us do, I have come across comments like ‘stop giving tickets’, ‘do some real work and catch some criminals’. I’m quite sure that what was witnessed
at Meremere constitutes as ‘real’ policing. Until someone is on the frontline and witnesses just how complex an issue such as a seemingly simple trespass is, will they then get a true appreciation for ‘real’ police work.
On the subject of what many call ‘revenue raising’, Sgt Fleming answered many questions. He prefers proactive policing, being visible and increasing awareness rather than necessarily writing tickets. “What we’re doing to try and reduce the road toll is trying to change the mind-set of policing. Prevention as opposed to productivity,” he said.
Sgt Fleming mentioned that in the past police have been measuring how busy they have been rather than how effective they have been. “Our measure should be the road toll, it should be deaths and serious injuries. We need to be reducing crashes and certainly reducing the behaviours that lead to trauma on our roads,” he said.
On the tip of everyone’s tongue, is always the issue of speeding. It does seem to be a problem on our roads as well as unsafe overtaking and tailgating (which is also an offence). Many motorists likely don’t know that the required car length to be behind the vehicle in front, at 100 km/h in ideal conditions, i.e. a dry road, with a good driver should be at least 40 metres, otherwise it is an offence.
When asked about speeding Sgt Fleming said, “We’re not necessarily saying somebody’s speed was the reason the crash happened. It may be intention, it may be distraction, it may be someone pulling out in front of you that’s caused it, but your speed will always determine the outcome. When 50km/h is the limit, that’s the maximum. It’s not a target,” he said.
I was shocked when he told me that one of his officers once clocked a motorist travelling at 220 km/h on Waiuku Road. “Something I really struggle with is that the motorists choose to do these things. If they are using a cell phone and see a police car, they put the phone down”, he said. “They know they are doing wrong. It’s putting other people’s lives in danger. These people are deliberately putting others in harm’s way. This is not an accident or a matter of judgement, rather, a choice the driver has made,” he said.
“We’re now leading a much more distracted life and driving and distraction are not compatible. It can take two to four seconds of your eyes being off the road while you are reading a text message,” he said.
We touched on drink driving and checkpoints. “When you sit out there all night on a booze bus and think, ‘that’s a boring night I did not even get anyone for drink driving’, actually,
it is a success,” he said.
What exactly is killing locals on our roads and how are we tracking with the road toll compared to previous years in our region? “There’s a lot of factors in crashes in the Franklin area. Big issues are commuting times. People are spending a lot more time on the road, they are tired. It’s leading to people making poor choices,” said Sgt Fleming.
Statistics show that in 2017 the Counties Manukau South (part of our policing region) road toll was 15 deaths. Currently (as of going to press) it stands at 6 deaths. For the whole of Counties Manukau the road toll last year was 23. It currently stands at 18. Interestingly, of the victims this year for the whole of Manukau District, 16 have been males. Only two have been females. As Sgt Fleming mentioned, higher police visibility, proactive policing, and the deaths on the State Highway have shown a steady decline in road deaths in his patrol area. With all road deaths, what people don’t take into consideration is that there is an individual risk. If you travel the same road at high speed and you are a confident driver and there are NO other motorists on the road you may get away with it. The problem with deaths is the cumulative risk. This means when every motorist does this, there is a very real risk. Other cars, other drivers with varying abilities, tired drivers, distracted drivers all greatly contribute to our road deaths. Education also plays a big part. Don’t forget if you are teaching your children how to drive, they will copy your behaviours later in life.
When a road death occurs, the police have the unfortunate task of notifying next of kin. It is something Sgt Fleming has had to do several times. “It’s the absolute worst part of the job. You are dealing the with the most raw of human emotions at that point and there is nothing you can do or say to make things better,” he said. “When you go somewhere and know you are potentially going to break someone’s heart, potentially for their rest of their lives, it’s absolutely heartbreaking, it’s the worst. Sometimes you just want to go home and hug your family that little bit tighter or give your child an extra hug,” he said.
Later in the day, I went out with Constable Anthony Henry who has been with Highway Patrol for ten years. We patrolled State Hwy 2 heading out towards Mangatawhiri and Maramarua. It was not long before vehicles were detected travelling 13-15 km/h over the limit. Under lights and sirens Constable Henry says ,“When you’re doing this you have to be scanning ahead to see ‘what if, what if’,” referring to constantly assessing conditions ahead when in pursuit of a vehicle. Speaking to Constable Henry it was very clear not every vehicle can be pursued. He has to constantly
check his surroundings, whether it is safe to conduct a U-turn and whether it is safe to pursue a vehicle without endangering other motorists. Let’s get the message out there folks.
Please, drive to the conditions. Remember, the speed limit is not a target. Save your Facebook posts or text messages until you pull over somewhere safe to read them. If you practice safe driving and driving to the conditions it is less likely the police will have to come knocking on your loved one’s door to give them horrible news. Thanks to the Pokeno Patrol Base employees, Sgt Fleming, Constable Henry and other staff for their invaluable knowledge and insight to spread this message to our wonderful Franklin and North Waikato community.
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