Care must be taken using speed guns

PUBLISHED : Friday, 18 January, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 18 January, 2008, 12:00am

Speeding is not the most serious traffic offence. But as it puts lives at risk, police have to do their utmost to prevent it. If this means using the latest technology available, so be it. Technology itself cannot prevent reckless driving on our roads, though. Traffic officers have to know how to properly set up and use the equipment that they have been given and to carry out their duties with the utmost care and accuracy.

The case of tycoon Peter Lam Kin-ngok shows why. Mr Lam had originally been charged with driving at 114km/h in a 50km/h zone. But the prosecution amended the charge and accepted his plea of guilty to driving at 79km/h after it emerged that a police officer had failed to follow the correct procedures when using a laser gun to assess the motorist's speed. Mr Lam was fined HK$450.

Although police are performing a valuable community service in making sure that the road rules are obeyed, they can also do a disservice if speeds are not accurately established and motorists wrongly punished. Mr Lam could have lost his licence if he had not contested the reading. Whereas the majority of motorists would have accepted their fate, he fought the matter in court, hired a senior counsel and had an expert on speed laser equipment flown in from Britain. Mr Lam's case was similar to dozens of others in Britain in recent years - where more stringent conditions are attached to the use of laser guns. The expert, Michael Clark, pointed out that laser guns can easily give incorrect readings if not used carefully.

As we report today, an academic who checks Hong Kong police speed equipment, has disputed the degree of error in readings. Nonetheless, to prevent further challenges to claimed speeding violations, the police should thoroughly examine training methods and make changes where necessary.

This must be coupled with using the most reputable equipment and a method of double-checking readings. In many other parts of the world, video cameras are used in conjunction with the laser guns to ensure accuracy. Making sure that every safeguard is taken is not just for drivers, after all; it is also in the interests of the police - and the interests of justice.