By Colin MacGillivray
MITCHELL police will ramp up their presence on the region’s roads as traffic increases with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.
Victoria Police conducted a statewide blitz targeting dangerous drivers, known as Operation Saturn, between October 22 and November 8.
Mitchell Police Service Area Inspector Peter Koger said the results of the operation made it clear that the road safety message was not getting through to some people.
Police issued a total of 299 infringements and caught three drink or drug drivers in the Mitchell region during the 17-day operation.
Across Victoria, 11 people died on the roads, 413 were caught drink driving and 487 were caught with drugs in their system during the operation.
More than 16,000 traffic offences and 2500 criminal offences were detected statewide, including 6428 speeding offences, 843 mobile phone offences and more than 3000 combined instances of people driving unlicensed, on a suspended license or in an unregistered vehicle.
“We’re still not really happy with the road trauma and the results we’re having, which means people still aren’t taking the message up – they’re still using their mobile phones and they’re still drink driving,” Insp Koger said.
“We will still be enforcing all those safety-related offences – particularly leading up to Christmas – so people need to stay safe and ensure they do all the appropriate, responsible things when they’re on the road.”
Insp Koger said the dismantling of roadblocks separating metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria had left Mitchell police with more resources to patrol the region’s roads.
“It will be pretty much back to business as usual for us in terms of intercepting and targeting dangerous driving, especially on all the main thoroughfares with people coming from metropolitan Melbourne and heading up through to places like Nagambie and Murrindindi,” he said.
“We’ll be watching those roads, and all the safety matters that we always target will be our focus, which is speed, fatigue, drink and drug driving, and distraction. We’ll be out and about intercepting and enforcing.
“We have noticed a bit of a spike in people using their mobile phones while driving.
“We are having a rollout where former highway patrol members who are drug-test qualified and are now at stations are going to be able to drug test, so we’ll have extra people available to do drug tests.
“The roads are getting busier, and all the same reasons that are causing our road trauma are still there.”
Road Policing Command Acting Assistant Commissioner John Fitzpatrick said the increase in mobile phone offences was particularly concerning to police.
“People are starting to drive both distances and speeds they are not familiar with, which carries its own risk,” he said.
“But the thought of people then throwing distraction into the mix is a deadly combination.
“I cannot stress the importance of leaving your phone alone while driving.”
Insp Koger said police would also continue to enforce the correct wearing of masks as Victoria’s state of emergency was still in effect.
“They have to be properly worn, because we’re finding a lot of people not wearing them correctly,” he said.
“The driver of a car is not required to wear a mask, but anyone who doesn’t live with you has to wear a mask.
“We need to be cautious as we come out of the second wave lockdown to ensure we don’t have a third wave, so we’ll be doing everything we can to ensure that doesn’t happen.”