Recently, we mentioned about new radar speed detectors that can be carried on motorbikes, part of a new range of equipment purchased by the Spanish government to improve road safety. Since then, the internet has gone wild with stories about these radars with some old myths resurfacing and a lot of speculation becoming accepted as fact.
In issue 2 of N332 RoadWatch magazine we decided to clear up some of the confusion caused by these speculative articles by giving you the facts about roadside radars and speed detectors.
First of all, when we said “The DGT has spent a million euro on new mobile cameras which can be carried by traffic police on their motorcycles”, that sentence is entirely accurate. These cameras and radar detectors are not installed on the motorbikes, they are carried on them, in the panniers, allowing the officers to set up temporary detection zones in the most in just about any location. There are some places in Australia and Poland for example where radars are fitted to the motorbikes, but in Spain, the Guardia Civil do not have such a feature.
The question is how does this speculation come about? Well, this time, it has been caused by two very different source images. Firstly, as we also explained last month, the Guardia Civil officers have taken to the roads on new motorbikes. The front of these motorbikes are very different to the previous ones and there are pieces of equipment which are now more visible. We showed you one of these on the cover of this issue of N332 Roadwatch, a cylindrical protrusion. This, some people believe, is a radar camera. It is not, it is a light. In fact there are two of them and they are the lights which flash red to advise a vehicle in front to stop.
It is true that they look a little bit like a camera though, in fact they look a lot like some other images which have also been printed in some newspapers of a camera on a Guardia Civil motorbike. These images are very real, although they are now quite old. They are cameras but they have no means of detecting, monitoring or reporting speed. In fact, they were part of a pilot scheme to test what we know as ANPR, Automatic Number Plate Recognition, designed to monitor vehicles looking for those without tax or insurance for example. Some 300 bikes were fitted with the equipment, they were part of a test some years ago, and are not in service right now.
Whilst we are on the subject, another image has started doing the rounds again, that of a radar detector hidden in a roof box of a car. The first thing to point out is that the Guardia Civil do not use any kind of underhand, obscure detection equipment. They use unmarked vehicles, although there is a discussion taking place at the moment with a view to potentially stopping this practice and only using marked vehicles, but they always attempt to make road users aware of their presence by using signs warning they are there. In fact it is not the aim of the Guardia Civil to catch motorists speeding, it is their aim to slow traffic down to an acceptable and legal rate.
Secondly, the geodata in the image reveals that the car with the hidden equipment in the roof box is parked on the forecourt of Opel Crissier – Milliet SA, Chemin de l’Esparcette 6, 1023 Crissier, Suisse. That´s Switzerland to you and me.
So now we have cleared up the confusion, perhaps we can explain some of the actual equipment being used on the roads right now in Spain, which includes monitoring devices for speed, but also for drivers who skip trough red lights, and, more recently, such bad practices as using a mobile phone and the use of seatbelts, like Traffic Eye we looked at last month.
Here are the five types of monitoring devices currently in use.
- Fixed Cameras: These devices are nicknamed “speed traps without operators” as they are located along the road network, usually at the side of the road, or sometimes on poles or across the carriageway, and monitor vehicles as they pass, recording those who exceed the maximum permitted limit. The newer versions of these cameras can also look for seatbelt use and for drivers using a mobile phone.
- Mobile Radars: These operate with an operator, or usually a small team, and are often in unmarked Guardia Civil vehicles, as well as those in marked cars belonging to traffic law enforcement groups, including the DGT themselves. Depending on the type of equipment, the recording vehicle can either be static or moving. The newer models are small enough to be carried on a motorbike and so two officers can set up independent monitoring locations along the same stretch.
- Fixed-Section Radars: These devices operate over a fixed distance of road and monitor the average speed between two points on that section. These devices are often considered to give a more realistic impression of recorded speed as the driver doesn´t usually react instantly when they see one, and so the average reading is a more likely speed recorded.
The camera at point “A” records the number plate as the vehicle passes, including the date and time. Using Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology, the car is then recorded as it passes point “B”, and the time it has taken to cover that distance recorded. If the journey has registered an average speed above the permitted limit then the details are sent to a central processing point where the fine is automatically processed and sent to the driver.
- Red-Light Cameras: This type of equipment does not measure the speed of a vehicle but takes a photograph if the vehicle has failed to stop at a red light.
- Pegasus Equipped Helicopters: Pegasus is the name of a recording device fitted to most of the DGT´s traffic helicopters. Distinctive by their yellow and light blue colouring, these “eyes in the sky” can catch offending motorists from a kilometre away and at a height of 300 metres, recording the average speed and vehicle characteristics, as well as monitoring for other traffic violations.
Once the infraction is recorded the data is sent immediately to a central processing point, the Centro de Tratamiento de Denuncias Automatizadas, or ESTRADA, where a fine is automatically issued. In the event of a serious offence, the helicopter crew will summon ground crews to intercept the vehicle.
There is also another monitoring device which is sometimes confusing to motorists, as these metal boxes live alongside the road network but have no visible means of taking a picture. They are identifiable by a square marking in the lane nearby, which is a monitoring sensor, sending information to the roadside box. These devices are used to monitor traffic flow statistics and are not used in enforcement, which is why they have no means of recording individual vehicle details. They are able to record the vehicle type and the number of vehicles using an area, providing essential data to road planners.
In total, across Spain, there are currently 800 fixed cameras, 16 Fixed-Section Radars and 6 helicopters equipped with Pegasus, as well as countless patrols from both the Guardia Civil and the police.
If you´re wondering where the most likely location to be snapped for speeding is it is on the A4 in the province of Jaén, where a Fixed-Section Radar controls the road between kilometre posts 242 and 245.
This article first appeared in issue 2 of the N332 RoadWatch magazine…