Mid Ulster traffic cops: From whistle-players to cereal-eaters ‘we’ve seen it all’ behind the wheel

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From playing a penny whistle while driving to eating a bowl of cereal, complete with milk, Mid Ulster’s traffic police really have seen it all.

But with the numbers of pedestrians and drivers killed on our roads on the increase, it really is no laughing matter.

Police are particularly worried about vulnerable road users like pedestrians, with one death already this year

Police are particularly worried about vulnerable road users like pedestrians, with one death already this year

A growing number of road deaths are caused by careless and dangerous driving and police are urging drivers to put down their phones, think before taking a drink and pay attention while behind the wheel.

So concerned are they about the rising number of deaths on our rural roads, the Mid Ulster Mail was invited to sit down and talk about it. And their main concern is pedestrians.

With one pedestrian having already lost his life in the area this year, police are asking walkers to think about the clothes they wear and consider getting a high visibility jacket or armband - as it could mean life or death.

“I have a background in road policing,” Inspector Joanne Gibson told the Mail.

One of my main concerns looking at last year is the number of pedestrians that were killed - It was pretty much a quarter of all the fatalities and I don’t think the general public really have grasped that.

Inspector Joanne Gibson

“I have trained student officers on road policing and everything about reducing KSIs [Killed and Seriously Injured].

“I am really passionate about it.

“One of my main concerns looking at last year,” she continued, “is the number of pedestrians that were killed.

“It was pretty much a quarter of all the fatalities and I don’t think the general public really have grasped that.

Drink driving numbers a rising concern for Mid Ulster traffic police

Drink driving numbers a rising concern for Mid Ulster traffic police

“Mid Ulster is predominantly rural [and] you get these people who walk home at night, on a dark road in dark clothing.

“They’ve maybe been out drinking for the night and they don’t live that far away, so they’re walking home from the pub maybe and they can’t be seen.

“That’s one of the big concerns for rural areas.”

With twice as many deaths taking place on rural roads as urban roads, it seems police are right to be concerned.

Police

Police

In fact a third more people died on Mid Ulster’s roads over the course of 2015 than in Bel fast city, placing Mid Ulster in joint first place for the most dangerous roads in Northern Ireland.

In 2013 six people were killed in collisions, a number that jumped to seven the following year and continued to increase last year.

Another concern for traffic police operating in the area is “elderly people in built up areas”.

An 80-year-old man was struck by a car as he crossed the road to go to the shop in Tullyhogue just last Wednesday.

“They can unfortunately find themselves becoming pedestrian casualties,” Insp Gibson continued.

“People in general don’t wear bright clothes. Sons and daughters wouldn’t think of giving their elderly parent a wee high vis jacket to wear as loads of them do go out walking on country roads.

“If someone has a reflective jacket on - you only have to think of the police doing checkpoints at night - you see our jacket the minute the car lights hit it.

“If they only took the time to put on a high vis jacket, it could save lives.”

Inspector Gibson went on to say that vulnerable road users in general are her biggest concern in reducing casualties. This also includes those riding motorbikes or bicycles on the roads.

“Cycling has increased massively in the past number of years,” she continued.

But while commending the exercise, she said: “This a very worrying category for me.

“Some do dress up in high vis jackets and helmets, but a lot of people don’t.”

Another area of major concern is the huge number of people walking or cycling to and from factories without any high visibility clothing. This, Insp Gibson said, is something she hopes to tackle in the near future.