What it's really like to keep our roads safe
THEY'VE seen more than their fair share of road carnage over the past couple of decades, but one thing never changes for Paul Taylor and Davin Cole - that certain anger-tinged sadness police officers feel when it comes to preventable road deaths.
It starts somewhere deep inside the pit of their stomachs, worms its way into their minds and weighs heavily on their shoulders as they arrive on the scene of yet another fatal accident.
"I've attended more fatalities than I can remember," Davin says.
"When I arrive, I'm thinking first of the family - you're always thinking about how they are going to be affected.
"I don't think I've ever got used to going to those sorts of things - you do get hardened to it I suppose."
At 48, father of two Davin has dedicated most of his 18-year police career to reducing road trauma.
His good mate Paul, a 51-year-old father of four, has notched up 24 years with Queensland Police and nine of those have been spent patrolling some of the state's busiest roads.
"You just think 'That's a shame' when you work out it's a completely needless death," Paul says of knowing someone has died in crash.
"It does leave you feeling sick."
The sad reality is, no area in Queensland is immune to road trauma.
In the Whitsundays, for example, 11 people died and at least 30 people were seriously injured in speed-related crashes from January 2008 to December 2015.
Australian Regional Media, publisher of this newspaper, is working with the Queensland Government to reduce speed-related crashes on our roads through a safe driving campaign.
The campaign focuses on increasing awareness of the risks associated with low-level speeding - up to 10kmh over the speed limit.
Have you ever wondered what it's like to be the police officer charged with detecting speeding and other road rule infringements?
As we head into the Easter break, Paul, Davin and hundreds of their colleagues will be out in force, focusing their efforts on stopping low and high-level speeders, drug and booze-affected drivers and other road rule breakers.
At their fingertips is an arsenal of state-of-the-art speed detection equipment including Poliscan cameras mounted in nondescript vans and handheld pro-laser devices that can recognise speeding cars a kilometre away.
Being a road policing officer is no easy gig.
They often spend four-hour blocks sitting in the back of stuffy Mercedes or VW Caddy transporter-style vans, monitoring a system that reads the speed of every vehicle entering a 75m radius.
The system snaps super hi-resolution digital images of offending cars, trucks and motorbikes.
The images are so clear, you can easily see a driver's smile or frown.
Back at the station, the photos are transferred electronically to the traffic camera office for distribution to registered vehicle owners.
"We can scan up to five or six thousand vehicles in a four-hour deployment," Senior Sergeant Scott Lacey tells ARM Newsdesk.
"We have to operate this equipment in accordance with the Australian standard and we have to ensure these images are suitable for prosecution purposes."
Snr Sgt Lacey says police are trained to concentrate under conditions most of us would consider extremely boring.
"We are always monitoring the camera, the environment and our own personal security," he says.
Operating handheld radars is the complete opposite of keeping an eye on a small computer screen for hours at a time in the back of a tiny van.
Davin and Paul often put their lives on the line to ensure we don't meet them by accident.
They set up their speed detection unit by the side of busy carriageways, standing mere centimetres from the flow of oncoming traffic as they point their pro-laser devices onto vehicles they instinctively know are over the speed limit.
"When you've been doing this as long as I have you know when someone is speeding," Davin says, pointing his radar into the traffic.
"You're looking at the (pro-laser) device to confirm what you already know - that a vehicle is speeding because I've done these courses where they test your competency in estimating the speeds of vehicles.
"We can look and say if this vehicle is doing 63 or this other vehicle is doing 83."
Disobeying road rules does not just happen on nice breezy warm days so police need extreme fortitude to do their job, particularly when the Queensland sun is simmering away in the middle of summer.
"You've just got to be a bit sensible when it comes to workplace occupational health and safety issues," Davin says as he and Paul set up a speed detection site along a busy 70kmh zone.
Their high-powered Commodore sedan is overflowing with an array of safety equipment including water, a dash-mounted camera and witch's hats.
Once they arrive on the scene the officers complete a checklist, recording visibility, the volume of traffic, speed limits and other factors to ensure the area meets all safety requirements.
They have to make sure they have enough room for other vehicles to pull to the side of the road and Davin and Paul also need a clear exit in case they have to follow an offending vehicle.
"When it comes to pulling people up, the drivers can have no idea unless you create a runway for them," Davin says as he creates a temporary lane with witch's hats.
"When you get one car that goes in the wrong way and can't pull up in the right spot, they (other drivers) are like lambs and they will just follow them."
As a flagged-down driver pulls in, one of the officers uses a tablet to check the vehicle's registration number.
By the time the car stops and the driver's window opens, Davin and Paul know if the registered owner has committed any traffic offences or violent crimes, including domestic violence order breaches, and if they are wanted on warrants.
"We'll ask them if they've had anything to drink," Davin says as Paul goes through the process of preparing a ticket for the stopped driver who was flagged over for using a mobile phone.
"We'll take a specimen of breath and if they're right to go we'll tell them they'll get a ticket in the mail and encourage them to drive safely."
The hi-vis vests they don over the top of their standard issue uniforms offer little in the way of physical protection.
The senior constables are most at risk of being ploughed down if a driver loses concentration and strays into their paths.
"A few years ago I pulled a lady up for using her mobile phone," Davin says.
"I went up to give her a ticket and another driver ploughed into the police car.
"I had to jump onto the bonnet of (the stopped driver's) car otherwise I would have been cleaned up."
Some people believe police officers are given a set quota of tickets to write during their shifts, but the reality is totally different.
Some days Paul and Davin will issue maybe one or two penalty notices and, yes, there will be days when they prepare electronic tickets every five minutes or so.
However, both men say they would rather go an entire shift without pulling someone over than see drivers "voluntarily donate" their hard-earned bucks to the state by driving too fast.
"It boils down to the argument people have that all we're doing is revenue raising and not saving lives," Davin says.
"That's their opinion, but it's certainly not ours."
Despite the hard yards, Paul and Davin don't see themselves moving away from road policing anytime soon.
"What drives me is a passion for the job," Paul says.
"I'd like to think that the work I do every day might cause somebody to live a bit longer."
As Easter 2016 unfolds, Davin will have an extra reason for wanting drivers to take care on our roads - his 17-year-old daughter has just earned her provisional licence.
He had this message for Easter road users everywhere.
"Don't speed, be courteous to other drivers and think of your actions and how they will impact others," Davin says.
Australian Regional Media can take you behind the scenes of one of the state's busiest road policing units.
You can also find out how many people have died or been seriously injured in speed-related crashes in your region in our interactive and test your knowledge of road rules in our special quiz.
- ARM NEWSDESK