Police in the Bordeaux area of south-west France are pioneering the use of drones for traffic monitoring. French highway police have issued hundreds of fines based on footage of dangerous drivers from above since the program took off in the summer.
As drones slowly buzz their way into the world of law enforcement, most uses of the technology are applied after the fact – whether that’s getting aerial shots of a crime scene or searching for missing people. But a police force in Bordeaux, France, has found a genuine real-time application that could make roads safer.
Using a DJI Phantom, police captain Pascal Gensous and his team are able to take to the skies above some of the areas busiest roads. The pilot on the ground is backed up by a second officer watching for driving infringements, which commonly include ignoring safe stopping distances and dangerous overtaking.
As well as having a broader perspective from above, the drone allows for a much more conspicuous way to keep an eye on dangerous drivers. Instead of slowing to a stop after seeing a police car parked by the side of the road or adjusting behavior for speed cameras, drivers are unaware that they are being observed.
“The drone is very useful because we can see dangerous drivers on the roads without being seen by them,” said Gensous.
It’s also considerably cheaper than using helicopter surveillance to catch traffic offenders.
Once a dangerous driver has been spotted, the drone team communicates details to a motorcycle team further up the road, who wait and intercept.
The limitations of drone surveillance
Currently, it’s not possible to detect speeding drivers using drones. So there’ll always be a need for a team on the ground while that limitation continues. But there’s also been a backlash from French drivers over the initiative.
Pierre Chasseray of the lobby group Forty Million Drivers, thinks that using drones against drivers is an unnecessary escalation in both senses of the word.
“Just think, instead of encouraging drivers to keep their eyes on the road, we now have to look at the side of the road for speed cameras and now in the air for drones,” he said.
It’s estimated that the French government brings in around three-quarters of a billion dollars each year through speed cameras. It’s no wonder the local police are expecting funding for more drones in the near future. Another valuable tool in the fight against rogue road suers.