Fairfax Digital Journalist Andrew Elstermann joined officers from the South West Traffic division on a police ride along in Bunbury on Saturday night as part of Fairfax Regional Media's Arrive Alive road safety campaign.
His aim was to understand how the action of officers influence road safety and find out what the public's driving habits are really like.
Here's his report from the night:
I arrived at the Bunbury Police Station on Saturday night feeling excited and just a little bit apprehensive at what might lie ahead in the next eight hours during my police ride along.
I wasn’t expecting to see too many people doing the wrong thing – I thought we might find a couple of drink drivers and one to two people exceeding the speed limit and that would be about it.
I certainly didn’t think that later that night I would be watching on as police caught a drug driver, arrested a man for possession of cannabis and located a man who fled the scene after he crashed his car in to a house in Carey Park.
WATCH: See Andrew Elstermann's video report of the police ride along.
After arriving I got a quick briefing from Senior Constable Lance Beynon and Constable Sarah Norman and then we jumped in to an unmarked police car just after 6.30pm.
I hadn’t even had time to wonder how soon we would come across someone doing the wrong thing on the road when the sirens roared and the red and blue lights lit up for the first time.
A quick check of my watch told me that it was just two minutes in to the night when the police spotted a driver in a grey Subaru Impreza running a yellow light.
When asked why she had broken the law the female driver told police her passenger really needed the bathroom and they were sent on their way with a polite warning from police about the danger of intersections.
While it seemed this driver was telling the truth about her passengers imminent call of nature, once we were back in the car I quizzed Lance and Sarah about some of the other common excuses for poor driving they hear.
Here's a list for you:
One of these excuses was used just five minutes later when we driving down the side of the Bunbury Plaza Shopping complex and the speed radar on the dashboard clocked a grey Holden Astra doing 64 kilometres an hour in a 50 zone.
Despite the drivers’ excuse that they “were not aware of the speed limit on this road” they received a speeding ticket along with a lecture from the police.
“There was a lesson that came with that ticket about it being dark and a Saturday night with plenty of people out and about enjoying a drink,” Lance told me afterwards.
“If one of them stepped out in-front of you and you are doing 64 instead of 50, the chances of them having serious injuries or being killed increases a lot,” he said.
The next stop on our patrol came at about 6.55pm when Sarah spotted a Kombi van that had just driven through a No Entry sign.
Although the female driver passed a breathalyser and a drug test, it wasn’t the end of the stop as Lance’s keen nose smelled marijuana coming from the car.
The driver and a male passenger were asked to step out of the van and where the passenger admitted he had an amount of the drug in his pocket.
The man was arrested and conveyed back to the Bunbury Police Station to be processed.
His finger prints were captured using a digital fingerprint scanner, the only one in the South West, and the cannabis was weighed at 14 grams.
The man was bailed and told he had been summonsed to appear in Bunbury Magistrates Court in a fortnight charged with possession of an illicit drug.
Lance and Sarah dropped him back to his girlfriend and the van where they issued her with a fine for $300and three demerit points for driving through a No Entry sign.
They also issued the van with a work order (yellow sticker) due to significant cracks in the front windscreen. This means the vehicle must be repaired within the next 10 days or it would become ineligible to be driven on WA roads.
It had just gone 8pm when we headed back out on patrol and only a few minutes had passed when we spotted a silver Holden Commodore with no brake lights.
The female P-plate driver passed a drug and alcohol test while her male passenger inspected the lights.
With the help of Lance’s trusty tool kit and a new fuse, the lights were soon working again and they were sent on their way.
“We are not out here to give tickets,” Lance said.
“We are out here to improve road safety and by alerting them to the problem we were able to quickly sort it out and everyone is happy again.”
Just six minutes later, we spotted a white Hyundai Elantra leaving a petrol station without its headlights on.
It was really dark by this time of the night and so we followed the car for a short distance to see if the male driver would notice his error.
He didn’t and was quickly pulled over.
The male driver passed a drug and alcohol test and then told Lance he forgot to turn his lights on. He also admits that someone else flashed their lights at him earlier in the night for the same reason.
“Sometimes it has to hurt their wallet for the message to get through,” Lance told me.
And, while he was being spoken to by Lance, Sarah entered the licence number of the car into the police car’s on-board computer.
It flashed up a warning that the man’s licence has been expired since March, a fact which can also be seen on the card.
The man was fined $100 for having no authority to drive and $100 and three demerit points for driving at night without his headlights on. He was also told he could not drive the rest of the way home and must organise someone to help him out.
As more drivers pass the police car their number plates are entered in to the on-board computer and I’m pleased to see that there are plenty of drivers doing the right thing.
However, a single light up ahead appears to be approaching much too fast and the laser gun on the dashboard beeps.
It indicates that this motorbike is going 64kmh in a 50 zone, although it looked even faster to my naked eye.
The rider turns out to be pizza delivery man and he claims he thought the speed limit on the road was 60mh. However, the police officers are not fooled that easily and the on-board computer’s helpful list of previous traffic offences does not help his case either.
The rider is hit with a $200 fine and two demerit points before being sent on his way.
We then headed out of the central business district and in to the suburbs to do a lap of some of the main streets, many of which were marked with strips of rubber from previous burnouts.
While we had some downtime I asked Lance and Sarah what the benefits of marked and unmarked cars were.
Marked cars provide visibility on the highway, at sporting events and during double demerit point periods and send a clear “think again” message to trouble makers.
Unmarked cars are used to tackle habitual offenders and drivers who change their behaviour when they see a marked car. They help catch those drivers who repeatedly put other drivers at risk.
The ultimate goal of both marked and unmarked cars is to help stop road deaths and injuries.
After completing a lap of the suburbs we made our way towards the airport and at about 8.45pm a gold Jeep passed us, and a prominent sign about speeding, doing 93kmh in an 80 zone.
The male driver was given a ticket for $200 and two demerit points for his indiscretion.
About 15 minutes later at 9pm we witnessed a white ute driving in the bush before it accelerated up on to the road and over the median strip.
The ute was pulled over and the male driver admitted he had been drinking, however, his breath test showed he was just inside the legal limit. He was issued with a fine for $100 as well as the loss of one demerit point for crossing the median strip before we were on our way again.
Shortly after along the airport road the car’s speed gun pinged again, this time clocking a green Mitsubishi going more than 25kmh over the limit (106kmh in an 80 zone). The on-board computer also revealed that the man’s licence was under fine suspension.
Although the male driver of the vehicle passed a breathalyser, Lance also produces a drug swipe and explained to the driver how it worked.
The driver somewhat reluctantly placed it is his mouth and a few minutes later it returned a positive test for methamphetamine. He was arrested and a search of his car found a pipe concealed under the driver’s seat.
The man was taken back to the station where a second, more precise, test confirmed the initial positive test.
He was charged with driving under the influence of drugs, possession of drug paraphernalia and having no authority to drive and summonsed to appear before a magistrate.
The man was also fined $400 and deducted three demerit points for the speeding offence.
By the time he was returned to his car it was 11pm and time for a trip back to the station for something to eat.
This also gave Lance and Sarah a chance to file the paperwork from their arrests.
We were soon back out on the roads and ready to pull some drivers over for random breath tests, which had immediate results with the first vehicle stopped a hit.
The female driver of a red Holden commodore returned a positive random breath test and was arrested and taken to Bunbury Police Station for a second, more precise test.
This showed she was over the legal limit at the time she was stopped, although not by much. A fine for $250 and the loss of three demerit points were issued for a reading of 0.053 blood alcohol content.
It was now after midnight and the random breath tests saw us come upon a number of drivers who were playing skipper for their mates, which impressed Sarah and Lance.
One young girl was even playing designated driver for her mum and her mum’s friends who were enjoying a night out.
In the main street of the CBD, Sarah spotted a car pulling into a car park with a female passenger not wearing a seatbelt. She was very apologetic and got a valuable lesson about the importance of wearing a seatbelt.
The driver also got a lecture about the need to ensure everyone in the car is wearing a seatbelt as ultimately responsibility rests with him. The message seems to have hit home and they were let off with a caution.
There were a few more clear breath and drug tests but, just when it looked like things might be winding down for the night a radio alert was issued to officers about a car which had crashed into a house in nearby Carey Park.
When we arrived on the scene we could see that a white Holden commodore had not taken a corner well and crashed through a fence and in to the front veranda of a home.
The driver had tried to reverse away following the crash which had caused the car to become stuck in the fence.
It was also evident that the driver had fled the scene as he was nowhere to be seen when we got there so Constable Jake Carruthers was dispatched with police dog Geoffrey to search the nearby streets for clues.
A neighbour gave a short description of a man he thought he saw running away from the scene to police and soon after a man was picked up in a nearby street.
He had a cut nose and mouth and a whiplash injury to his right shoulder and an ambulance was called to treat his injuries.
The following day he was required to attend the Bunbury Police Station and was charged with having a blood alcohol reading in excess of 0.05 and failing to stop following a traffic crash.
The car crash turned out to be the last incident on the shift, which finished at 2am.
I am very grateful for the police for allowing me to do the ride along and it was interesting and somewhat of an eye-opening experience to see how different types of traffic crime were committed in one night.
The first few hours were very busy where we travelled only a few hundred metres between jobs.
I am pleased to be able to report that the majority of drivers were well behaved and should be congratulated for that.
However, despite all the warnings there were still too many drivers choosing to be reckless.
I was lucky in that there was no-one seriously injured during the ride along but, on other nights some drivers aren’t so lucky.
We’ve all been in a position where you went a little bit faster because you were in a hurry, or you quickly took that phone call because you thought no one was watching.
Whether it’s this or another minor indiscretion – what I took out of this night was that it can be one of those moments which can lead to awful things happening on our roads.
The police have to witness these horrible moments so please think again next time so we can help avoid them. This ride along has left me with a new-found appreciation for the job they do policing our roads.
And, most importantly Arrive Alive at your destination.