Sunday, February 14, 2010

Thailand's emergency vehicles

Vehicles that carry flashing red lights on their roofs, bear police shields and speed on streets may not be real police cars at all.

‘‘ Drivers get annoyed with the police because they mistake imposter vehicles for real police cars POL MAJ GEN PHARNU KERDLARPPHON DEPUTY COMMISSIONER OF THE METROPOLITAN POLICE BUREAU

More than 100 private vehicles done up to look like police cars may be running about illegally on Bangkok streets, police believe.

Their owners may be criminals in disguise, or may have done up the cars to show off. Some may enjoy the sense of power that driving a police vehicle gives them.

Police, worried that motorists could mistake these vehicles for genuine police cars, are vowing to remove them from the roads.

"I think these people are half-psycho, half-arrogant," said Pharnu Kerdlarpphon, deputy commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Bureau, who has told Bangkok traffic police to crack down on imposter police vehicles.

"Real police cars normally keep their emergency lights and sirens off, but those people like to turn them on and speed.

"Drivers get annoyed with the police because they mistake imposter vehicles for real police cars."

Members of the public have left more than 50 complaints about fake police cars at the Thai traffic police website, http://www.trafficpolice.go.th, since the arrest last November of actor/radio host Saranyu "Beam" Prachakrit, who was caught driving a car done up as a black-and-white Bangkok police vehicle.

He was stopped in Dusit district in a Toyota Fortuner wagon.

The body of the vehicle had been painted black, its doors white. It bore police shields on the sides and emergency lights on the roof.

Police found a gun, ammunition, a long knife and a pair of handcuffs in the wagon. They are taking legal action against Beam for making unauthorised modifications to a motor vehicle, carrying an unauthorised siren and lights, and carrying arms without a permit.

Beam's case is not an isolated one. On May 18 last year, Bangkok police arrested nine people in a van painted like a rescue workers' van.

They were found with 24,200 methamphetamine pills, a handgun and 30 rounds of ammunition. Police said the suspects admitted they were trafficking drugs and tried to conceal their illicit business in the fake rescue van.

The arrests, and online complaints about other unauthorised police vehicles spotted about town, worry Pol Maj Gen Pharnu, as they erode public confidence in the law.

Unauthorised vehicles have been found with sirens and emergency lights attached. Some vehicles are painted in police colours. Some imposters go as far as attaching stickers reading "police", fake task force names, and fake police code names to windshields or rear windows.

Pol Maj Gen Pharnu said only authorised vehicles could be equipped with emergency lights.

Red lights go to police and military vehicles.

Red-blue lights are installed on ambulances, and yellow lights are carried on other kinds of emergency vehicles such as vehicles of the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration, rescue foundations and the Expressway Authority of Thailand.

Police believe some imposters may have done up cars to look like police vehicles so they can commit crimes and flee the scene unhindered.

Others like to speed through traffic jams or lead "motorcades", which may be collections of vehicles driven by friends.

Some groups also use fake police cars to transport illegal immigrants and drugs.

As part of their crackdown, police have also told rescue foundations carrying emergency lighting to abide by the law.

"Rescue workers are a concern because they drive fast and may cause accidents themselves," he said.

Some rescue vehicles are equipped with unauthorised multi-coloured lights.

Pol Maj Gen Pharnu said he had asked rescue work foundations such as the Por Teck Tung Foundation and Ruamkatanyu Foundation to use only yellow lights, in line with the law.

"But they say yellow lights are not authoritative enough as motorists will not make way for them," he said.

"So they use red lights. We have been tolerant, because they do social work. But we will take strict action against rescue workers who use racing pickup trucks and red lights."

Police trace the owners of fake police cars from their licence plate numbers, visit their homes, make arrests, fine them and tell them to remove unauthorised accessories. Eleven owners of fake police cars have been arrested.

Most users of imposter police cars claim they were merely decorating or refurbishing their cars and did not know it was illegal.

The installation of emergency lights and sirens requires a licence from the Royal Thai Police Office. Each licence is valid for three years.

Installation of the equipment without a licence violates the Land Traffic Act. Transgressors can be fined 500 baht. Turning on such unauthorised emergency lights is another offence which is liable to a fine of up to 1,000 baht.

Unauthorised use of police shields violates the Official Logo Act and is liable to a jail term of up to one year and a fine of up to 2,000 baht.

Pol Maj Gen Pharnu also asked police to take action against unauthorised use of emergency lights.

Almost all vehicles of tambon administration organisations are equipped with emergency lights and are used to offer motorcade services commercially. This was against the law.

"If this continues, real police cars will carry no authority on the road. Few motorists make way for police cars as it is. It's time for a major round-up," Pol Maj Gen Pharnu said.

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