Beware the Phantom – Police’s latest covert weapon in the war on phone-using drivers

Next time you pick up your phone at the lights for a sneaky text, the Phantom could well be behind you.

The unmarked motorcycle is one of only two in the country being trialled by police, with the Waikato’s top roading cop seeing it as a key weapon in the police arsenal to help lower the road toll which in 2022 was the highest in four years as 378 people died on the country’s roads.

Amongst other patrol work, the Yamaha MT-O9 covert motorcycle, or Phantom as it is known by the force, is being used to sneak up on motorists breaking the law, something they make no apology for.

“He’s [officer is] wearing high-vis but not police high-vis,” said Waikato District road policing Inspector Jeff Penno. “It’s a covert resource, so the first time you realize it’s there he’s either tapping on your window or he’s got the lights and siren going behind you.”

The bike joined the Waikato’s road policing team around six months ago on a 12-month trial and has been deployed over the time around the Waikato District – Coromandel to Mōkau and coast-to-coast.

Penno said the red motorcycle is equipped with a police radio that is wireless into the officer’s helmet. It has a certified odometer so pace checks can be done, and it’s got the full lights and siren.

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There is currently only one officer who is trained to ride the bike in the Waikato, while another unmarked motorcycle is being trailed in Christchurch.

The primary use is catching people using their cell phones and those unrestrained in vehicles.

“People need to know if they are sitting in their car they can expect this thing to be behind them and if they are stupid enough not to be wearing their seat belt we will stop them, and they will get a ticket in memory of that event. “

Waikato District road policing inspector Jeff Penno with the recent undercover motorbike targeting phone users and unrestrained people on the roads.

Christel Yardley/Stuff

Waikato District road policing inspector Jeff Penno with the recent undercover motorbike targeting phone users and unrestrained people on the roads.

Penno wouldn’t say how often the bike is deployed, but they’re using it to its maximum ability. And since its introduction its success rate has been significantly higher than a marked vehicle.

“Sadly we have caught a lot of people. We are getting a lot more for phones than restraints, which is good because our seat belt wearing rates are coming up. But in the Waikato and nationally between a quarter and a third of our road toll are unrestrained people which beggars believe really.”

Last year there were 54 people killed on Waikato roads and Penno said countless more were seriously injured.

“The majority of those were people speeding, people distracted by using their cell phones, being intoxicated and contributing to that by not wearing a seatbelt.

The bike-borne officer can do speed monitoring as well.

“There is a holster for a laser gun, so he can sit there static and do the laser and go catch them.”

The motorcycle is equipped with a police radio that's wireless into the officer's helmet.  It has a certified odometer, and it's got the full lights and siren.

Christel Yardley/Stuff

The motorcycle is equipped with a police radio that’s wireless into the officer’s helmet. It has a certified odometer, and it’s got the full lights and siren.

The bike has also been an asset for engaging with the motorcycle community.

“Motorcyclists are high risk road users, so it’s a good way to talk to them and a good way to get motorcycle messages through.

“We’ve done a couple of motorcycle stops near Raglan, especially when coming into summer and the bikes are coming out of storage. It’s good to be proactive and make sure the people have got good gear, make sure the bikes are up to scratch.”

The motorcycle gives police a lot more deployment options, by moving through traffic easier, get to places a car can’t.

“The riding position gives the officer a much better view into vehicles. Even if people think they’re being clever holding their cell phones down on their laps we can still see that, and you will receive a ticket.”

Penno is also urging motorists to be careful on the roads with back-to-back long weekends, with Auckland Anniversary and Waitangi, starting this week.

“Long weekends in the Waikato are a real pressure point for us, we know we put large volumes of vehicles down roads that really weren’t designed for it, particularly around the Coromandel Peninsula.

“You need to allow more time, you need to vary your travel times, so you aren’t in the peak and make sure you are really well rested, especially coming back from your long weekend when you have had a couple of big nights. A few drinks is fine but just make sure you’ve had that really good recovery session before you come back because you are probably going to be sitting in a hot car in traffic for some time.”

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