Garda Brian Duddy of the divisional traffic corps interacts with a driver who came upon the garda checkpoint on the Dock Road
IT’S a cold Thursday night on Limerick's Dock Road – two and half weeks before Christmas – and there is a sense of excitement in the air.
The presents have arrived early for Chief Superintendent David Sheahan and members of the divisional traffic corps who have just travelled from the warmth of Henry Street garda station.
Fifty members of the force have just been issued with shiny new smartphones which, for the first time, will give gardai access to information on Pulse while on the roadside.
While some tests have been carried out using the new garda traffic app, the MIT checkpoint represents the first time, it will be have been used properly in the field.
“The phones are great, the app looks good but this evening will tell an awful lot,” commented one member of the traffic corps as he assisted in setting up the checkpoint.
Having strategically positioned their patrol cars and signage on the Dock Road, gardai begin flagging down cars shortly after 8.30pm.
Despite the cold and wet night, it’s busy on the roads and it’s not long before the first vehicles come upon the checkpoint and the flashing blue lights.
As each car comes to a stop the usual checks are carried out before the smartphone is produced and the vehicle registration entered into the new app.
Earlier in the night, Tim Willoughby, head of digital services and innovation at An Garda Siochana, explained that a green bar indicates everything is in order, while red suggests otherwise.
A number of interested observers – including this reporter – look on from a distance waiting for the first ‘red alert’ of the night.
Sergeant Damien Hogan from the Garda Press Office is also present – armed with a camera to capture the first detection with a view to posting details on the various social media platforms used by An Garda Siochana.
It wasn’t long before our attention was drawn to one member of the traffic corps who was approaching the footpath brandishing his new smartphone having stopped a car moments earlier.
Several gardai, IT gurus and other interested observers peered at the eight-inch screen which, to my surprise, was not showing green or red but amber.
”We didn’t mention that did we?” quipped Tim.
Amber, I’m told, indicated the tax on the vehicle was “just out”. The driver was given a warning and told to rectify matters.
Within minutes, Chief Supt Sheahan who attended the checkpoint, alerts us to a red warning on his smartphone.
“The tax is out by six months,” he states.
A quick glance at the phone confirms the tax had expired on May 31, 2017. The driver is spoken to and the matter will be dealt with in the usual way.
As more and more cars are stopped, the potential benefits of the new app become abundantly clear.
Within a split second of the user entering the registration number and the location of the traffic stop, the results are back –without a radio call being made.
“The response of the app is almost instantaneous, there are no more delays anymore, we can do it on the side of the road. In less than 20 minutes we’ve stopped cars which have tax out from a month to a year,” said Chief Supt Sheahan.
His colleagues from Garda Headquarters are also relieved and there is a real sense that their work over the past 12 months has been worthwhile.
A few minutes after his first detection, Chief Supt Sheahan returns to the roadside with phone in hand again. This time the screen is displaying two red warnings.
One indicates the tax on the vehicle has been out of date for almost a year while the other suggests the car had come to the attention of gardai in the past.
Later in the evening, a middle aged man travelling with a female passenger was arrested on suspicion of drink driving having failed a roadside breath test.
Following his arrest the man was taken to Mayorstone garda station for processing in the usual way.
Separately, a car was seized by gardai after an issue was detected relating to its insurance. It is later confirmed the driver was not insured.
During the course of the evening checkpoint, which lasted for less than 40 minutes, there were more than a dozen detections relating to out-of-date motor tax.