No roundabouts, just nine miles of road – and now one speed gun

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The Independent Online

The sleepy island of St Mary's in the Isles of Scilly is something of a motoring anomaly. With just nine miles of road, bereft of roundabouts or traffic lights, the biggest irony was once fact that aspiring drivers could take their test there.

That was until this week when the island woke up to news authorities had introduced the island's first-ever speed gun in a bid to crack down on hasty drivers – even though most would be hard-pressed to truly exceed even half of the island's speed limit.

The move is a milestone for St Mary's, which until now, was one of few places in Britain where drivers could travel speed-trap free. It is also quite a firm stance for an island, that according to the DVLA, has only 823 registered vehicles.

Introduced on Wednesday in a bid to bring the island up to date with UK driving laws, the speed gun has been greeted with a mixture of scepticism and shoulder-shrugging acceptance.

"We don't even own a car and usually travel around the island on bicycle," said Bryony Lishman, co-proprietor of the island's Mincarlo Guest House. "It's quite hard to break the 60mph speed limit here. In fact on most of the islands here you'd be hard pressed to move beyond second gear."

Official figures showed that fastest vehicle clocked since its introduction was a lonely moped whizzing by at a paltry 34mph. Even the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary appeared somewhat perplexed when The Independent broke the news to its residing press officer yesterday. "Speed gun in St Mary's? Really? Where did you hear that?" the spokesman enquired. "It's usually such a sedate island where everyone behaves themselves and there's hardly ever any traffic. Apart from during the summer, there's rarely ever the need for more than two police officers on the island at all."

Yet police remain adamant of the speed gun's necessity. Sergeant Charlie Craig said it would be used to enforce the laws of the land which, he said, still applied to an outpost 28 miles off Land's End. "There is an element that thinks Scilly isn't in the UK and the laws of the UK don't apply on Scilly," he argued. "Sometimes people need reminding that the laws of the land do apply here."

The gun, he added, was imported on to the island in the wake of concerns over the increasing numbers of speeding cars as well as feedback from the island's visitors. "We have a very friendly, very relaxed way of dealing with things, but there are still things that are unacceptable and we will enforce them," he said. "Driving too fast in certain areas, such as around the school, will be dealt with."

Conceding that it was unlikely that motorists could build a head of steam to break the speed limit, Sgt Craig added that the gun would be used for gathering evidence of anti-social driving in certain areas, particularly the island's main centre in Hugh Town.

"It is very unlikely that the radar gun would be used to prosecute. It is an evidence-gathering thing. If someone was driving at 40mph through Hugh Town we would clock it and say it might not be illegal but it is not a considerate way to drive."

Police Community Support Officer Shirley Graham added that the speed gun will be used for monitoring drivers, collecting data and educating motorists. "There is a perception of speeding on Scilly but we have got the national speed limit here and to go 60mph or over is impossible.

"We do get a lot of complaints – it is one of our priorities. We try to educate the drivers to the conditions of the roads – 25mph would be ideal."

But the reception among islanders remained mild. "I suppose you do get the odd person driving like a muppet," said Rhiannon Manning, 34, who works at the island's local taxi office. "Most of the lanes here are built for horse and carriages. There's no traffic and the only things that really blocks roads are the bin men. There's a road in the centre of the island, but it winds so heavily if you did try to creep beyond 60mph you'd probably crash.

"That said, it's probably a good deterrent for dangerous driving in the long-run, wouldn't you agree?" she said, seeking the thoughts of her 56-year-old mother. The response? "Don't ask me, dear. I never go beyond 20."