THE sound of gunshots echoing in the distance over the quiet Edinburgh street is not something you expect to hear, and is enough to spark a jolt of panic even in this city.
The source of the sound is nothing criminal, actually the soldiers at a firing range at nearby Dreghorn Barracks. But out on the roads with some of the officers charged with keeping a watchful eye on traffic in and around the Capital it’s never a bad thing to keep your eyes and ears open for any sign of danger.
The unmarked car that picks me up is something the police would rather members of the public knew little about, though I can say it’s a high-powered piece of equipment with a variety of recording devices all aimed at catching errant motorists red-handed – and backing up officers when cases go to court.
High-profile policing has been something that has been used for years to try to curb traffic offences and ultimately save lives but, as soon becomes apparrant out on the A720 city bypass, there are no shortage of motorists still worryingly complacent about the law.
Within one minute of merging on to the bypass, the eagle-eyed officers clock a driver on his mobile phone. He looks decidedly sheepish when we pull out alongside him – but that doesn’t stop him putting his Blackberry down in a futile attempt to avoid detection.
Pc Stewart Lamb passes the details of the Audi’s registration plate on over the radio, while his colleague Pc Stewart Logan puts on the flashing lights and pulls the car over.
The apologetic older businessman is handed a fixed penalty fine of £100 and three points on his licence for his troubles, while a breathalyser test proves negative.
With that, we are off again – heading down the westbound carriageway on the look-out for other seemingly low-level offences which have could have life-threatening consequences.
A call comes in over the radio about a man walking on the carriageway of the A1 near Haddington.
My first reaction is that this is gravely serious – but I am told that other officers are dealing with it, and that the description tallies with a breakdown or a motorist who has run out of fuel. As we travel towards the Gogar roundabout, the officers explain that this is a notorious speeding blackspot – with many drivers ignoring the 50mph speed limit.
The driving maneouvres of a passing Citroen make the patrol team suspicious that the driver may have something to hide.
He is spotted looking into the car, before veering into different lanes, giving the impression of trying to avoid the police.
Pc Logan slows down the car to 40mph in a 50mph zone, and the Citroen driver slows down too, again ringing alarm bells that he is being evasive.
The registration plate of the car is checked with the control room, and the operator confirms that the car is covered by an MOT and insurance.
But the car’s indicator and brake light are out, and the officers are concerned there may be something more to it – so they pull the driver over just near the Calder Road round-about.
He gets out of the car and immediately appears agitated, gesticulating wildly at the officers as he tries to put his side across.
Officers calmly tell him to get back in the car while they give it a full once-over, and give him a 21-day ticket requiring him to fix the lights.
The man, who has a police record, tells the officers that he is local but “gets confused” at those junctions.
We set off back along the city bypass, towards another notorious speed spot – this time on the A1 at Newcraighall.
After a quick test of the car’s in-built camera – which works on time and distance to calculate speed – we find a culprit, doing 68mph in a 50mph zone.
He is pulled over near the Fort Kinnaird shopping complex, and taken into the back of the car to be hit with the speeding ticket.
The middle-aged man, who tells officers he “always forgets” that the area is a 50mph zone, shakes the hand of one of the officers as he leaves the car.
Police can issue speeding tickets for speeds up to 74mph, before it becomes a court offence. I’m told that one driver was caught speeding in that stretch at 116mph – leading to a ban under a dangerous driving charge.
It is raining heavily when we hit the city bypass again – and the dodgy windscreen wipers of a Vauxhall van catch the attention of the officers.
Radio checks find that he doesn’t have an MOT and they pull him over at the next layby to find several other defects.
The driver says he has an MOT booked, claiming exemption. He and his passenger become agitated with the two officers, shouting that they are in a rush because they are going to a child’s birthday party.
The passenger even resorts to asking for a lift from a lorry driver who had stopped in the layby behind us – but his request is politely declined.
All of this happened in just over an hour – giving a taste for the hectic job of the traffic cops who patrol our trunk roads.
Aside from the motoring offences, they are regularly tracing stolen cars and gangsters using the roads to transport drugs and weapons.
And gone are the days when the use of mobile phones only encompassed making calls or sending texts.
In an alarming case earlier this week, police caught a woman driving with both hands on her mobile phone, while leaning on the steering wheel. She told officers she wasn’t texting – she was watching a film. A taxi driver was caught doing the same in the Capital earlier this year. These offences currently attract a £50 fine, while not wearing a seat belt will lead to a £100 fine.
When mobile phone use is suspected of being a factor in serious or fatal car crashes, the devices are sent away for forensic analysis. This includes an examination of data usage, when texts have been read and the retrieval of deleted messages.
Inspector Andy Amour, who oversees the complex trunk road network in Police Scotland’s East Region, revealed an alarming new statistic, showing that six out of ten schoolchildren admit to being driven to school while the driver is using their phone.
He said: “These are the things that cause you harm, that cause death or injury. In roads policing, one of the hardest jobs is having to go to a bereaved next of kin to tell them they have lost a loved one.”