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Police use `pit-stop' signs to slow speeding motorists

IF YOU occasionally flirt with the speed limit, then Derbyshire has its benefits. There are few more civilised places in Britain to be caught out.

Traffic police there are helping motorists prone to memory lapses by carting hand-held speed-limit signs to the roadsides and waving them at those they detect speeding - a remarkably urbane way of tackling a crime that normally leads to humiliating conversations in the passenger seat of a patrol car.

At only one foot in diameter, the signs are smaller than traditional speed-limit signs. They look more like a large table-tennis bat or a paddle.

"As you go past an officer he will flash this paddle at you rather than pull you in," said a spokeswoman for the Derbyshire constabulary yesterday. "It's quicker for officers and it stops people being delayed in their journey. More than one motorist sees each sign, which also saves time."

Officers were not at all embarrassed by the initiative, she said. "It's just a new idea and they are pleased to try anything which gets the message across."

But do not be fooled into thinking the officers are a soft touch, said Don Dovaston, the Deputy Chief Constable of Derbyshire. He introduced the strategy after seeing it operate in Australia earlier this year. "This is not an alternative to prosecution but a more friendly way to tell drivers to obey the law," he said. "We realise that most people do occasionally drive a few miles an hour more than they should. These signs are for those people, not the drivers who flagrantly ignore the speed limit. We will continue to issue pounds 40 fixed-penalty notices to drivers who commit breaches of the law."

To underline the point, the number of convictions for speeding has risen by 31 per cent in the past year in Derbyshire. The force has made the reduction of traffic speeds a priority.

Motorists, as you might expect, seem more than comfortable with the new tactic. "It is user-friendly and it makes people smile," said the force spokeswoman. "Several motorists have seen the sign and raised a hand to say, `Thanks, point taken'."

For those who are well over the speed limit, however, nothing has changed. "We will pull you in and do you," she said.