Saturday, 6 July 2013

Close Encounters of the Third Police Kind

Picture the scene. A shining, magnificent winter’s day in Victoria. For once, the Hume Highway to Sydney almost enticing as it stretched out before me. The view of Mount Buffalo from the Glenrowan Hill and every other landscape feature towards the distant horizon crisply defined. The purest of sky-blue skies marred only by little puffs-of-shaving-cream clouds hovering above a couple of hill tops.

Fast forward a couple of hours. The sentiments of It’s a Beautiful World were still playing on repeat in my head as I day-dreamed my way down a long hill towards a place I soon discovered is called Little Billabong, north of Holbrook in New South Wales. A red police car was parked in the scrub between the north and southbound lanes, his LIDAR camera pointing my way, and my beautiful day crash-landed.

Oops. My car is a small manual car with no cruise control and picks up speed on a long downhill run, but for once I wasn’t watching my speedo. The long arm of the law was extended out of the window of the police car, pointing directly at me and signalling me to pull over. I have to confess he was playing it straight by not hiding in the bushes, the police tactic in common use on the Victorian section of the Hume Highway. But Policeman No 1 was definitely positioned to catch speeding cars at the bottom of a slope extending upwards for a kilometre or more.

Flashing red and blue lights drew up behind me. My only rueful remark as I handed over my licence was 'I was day-dreaming.'

The very hunky and very polite police officer seemed a bit surprised to discover that, despite my own red car, I was not a young hoon out for a spin on the open road. But I was booked, of course. As I was handed the ticket with the fine of $243, I said ‘You’ve got to be joking’.

He tried to help. ‘Have you had a clean driving record in NSW for the last ten years?’

‘I’ve had a clean driving record since 1966.’

‘Ok, you can exercise Option 2 on the ticket. Write a letter. The authorities might let you off with a caution.’ He pointed to the relevant wording on the back of the ticket. As he turned to walk away his parting advice was ‘Ease off on the speed, there are a lot of police on this road.’

My glum reply was ‘I know, I’m on this road all the time.’

A bit further north I stopped for petrol at South Gundagai. Tucked in, not visible from the highway, was a police random breath test unit and I was waved down for testing for the first time in twenty six years of regular driving on the Hume.

Policeman No 2 was friendly and a little bit of social chit-chat seemed in order. ‘I’ve just been breathalysed.’ An afterthought also seemed relevant. ‘And booked.’

‘Yeah? Where?’

I pointed to the south. ‘About half an hour or so down the road.’

‘Really? What colour was the car?’

‘Red.’

‘Not one of ours, then. What did he do you for?’

‘A hundred and twenty five.’

‘One twenty five on the Hume?’ The official speed limit is one hundred and ten, but the Hume is one of the best roads in Australia, driving conditions were perfect and his disbelief was palpable. ‘Geez. Write a letter.’

The Alcotest was administered and we parted the best of friends.

That was Sunday afternoon. On Friday morning I left Sydney to drive back to Melbourne and needed more petrol at South Gundagai. Incredibly, there was the random breath test patrol again, this time staffed by two policemen. Seeing the funny side of all this unexpected attention from the police, I lowered the driver's window and grinned at Policeman No 3. ‘I was breathalysed here last Sunday.’

He looked at me. ‘Were you? It was probably me then, but I don’t remember.’

‘No, it was your mate.’ I pointed to Policeman No 2, attending the car in front of me.

Policeman No 3 called out to him. ‘This lady says she was here last Sunday.’

Policeman No 2 looked in my direction and recognised my car. ‘That’s the lady who was done by that cockroach down south for one twenty five.’

Policeman No 3 had obviously heard all about it. He turned back to me, full of sympathy. ‘Did you get your letter away?’

‘No, but I’ll write it as soon as I get back to Melbourne tonight.’

‘You do that. Don’t forget now.’ He held the Alcotest gadget near my mouth, I dutifully counted aloud and he waved me on.

The letter’s now in the mail. I’m hoping that an official caution will arise from this cautionary tale.