I suspect I am not the only person who has noticed the sudden growth of strangely shaped "orange trees" alongside many of our highways. Others must have seen them too, because the result has been a sudden outbreak of vehicles keeping to the speed limit.
I first noticed this when driving my children to school one morning. Along one stretch of road, which I will not name to protect the innocent and where most people had become accustomed to bowling along at between 80 and 90km/h, suddenly everyone was creeping along at a stately 69.5.
True, we had just passed a sign specifying a limit of 70, and another sign with a picture of a camera that was supposed to indicate the presence of a police speed radar, but they had both been there for ages and had never bothered anyone before.
"Why is everyone going so slowly?" I mused aloud. "There's a police speed trap," the children chimed. "Where?" "There!" "Where?" Well, to cut a long story short, it took me several days to spot what they were talking about. It was an orange device, a cross between a lamp post and a gangly tree with a large box, also orange, attached to the bottom half of the trunk.
And there was not just one of them, either. About 300 metres after the first one, just when the unwary would assume it was safe to open up the throttle again, there was another. Luckily for me, the children knew about that one too, so an unfortunate incident was averted.
Now that I know what they look like, I naturally keep a wary eye open for more of the devices - and find that they have started to spring up along many of the routes I use regularly. Even when I missed one, the sudden braking of the car in front that had just roared past me caused me first to curse, then send a silent vote of thanks as I caught sight of what he had already seen (or perhaps already knew about). I think I squeaked through on that occasion, but it was a close shave.
These experiences caused me to sit back and reflect on my driving experiences over the last 35 years in Hong Kong and the general situation with respect to adherence to speed limits. Not to put too fine a point on it, warning signs by themselves had little or no effect. Only the very occasional manned police speed trap carried any real danger. They were few and far between, hence a culture of speeding has developed over the years.
These new orange trees are a game changer. I have noticed that some of them are no longer preceded by the warning sign. That's a bit of a low blow, if you ask me. After all, the job of the police is not to prosecute drivers for speeding, it is to make them obey the law. And the trees are doing that job very nicely.
Mike Rowse is managing director of Stanton Chase International and an adjunct professor at Chinese University. firstname.lastname@example.org