Drones to aid traffic management operations in Spain

Fresh from confiscating a mid-range cargo drone that was being used to smuggle narcotics out of Morocco, Spanish law enforcements authorities are apparently keen to prove that the problem of drones is with the people who use them, not the technology itself.

This follows revelations that the country’s General Directorate of Traffic (DGT) has more than doubled the number of its traffic monitoring drones to 39 (from 11 in the past year).

This should be a sweet case study for traffic law enforcement operators in Africa who wish to integrate drone technology on their patrols. Last easter, South Africa’s Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) indicated that it would be deploying drones along other new technology like body cameras along major roads in efforts to curb holiday carnage along the country’s major roads.

Now, with Spain leading the way, we know that drone technology can work in traffic management.

But it needs time.

The Spanish DGT has apparently been at it since 2018, with a pilot project that must have worked like a charm in the end, which led to the directorate taking the plunge in August the following year, to make drone technology a permanent part and parcel of its traffic monitoring force.

The 39 drones have been distributed throughout Spanish provinces and – according to a statement from the DGT – they will be in the air patrol units and/or in the traffic sectors of the Civil Guard to support the operations of the twelve traffic helicopters already in the directorate’s employ.

“The drones are intended for the detection of reckless driving behaviour and traffic surveillance on those sections of high risk of accidents and on roads with greater traffic of vulnerable users, in particular cyclists, motorcyclists and pedestrians,” the DGT statement said.

“They are also used for monitoring and regulatory support in operations and special events in which a high number of road movements are concentrated; for regular regulatory missions complementary to those carried out by helicopters; and to support in emergency situations that, due to their severity, significantly affect the circulation and safety of road users.”

Fifteen of the drones will be based in Madrid and will be working the area in and around the Spanish capital, including Castilla and la Mancha. The drones will also be on standby for other parts part of the country to provide support to the rest of the provinces whenever they are needed.

Some of the drone types to be used to monitor Spanish traffic. Picture DGT

Each DGT helicopter patrol unit based in la Coruña, Zaragoza, Valladolid, Seville, Malaga and Valencia will have two drones to carry out missions in its local environment and area of influence; as will Cantabria, Asturias and Extremadura.

The Balearic and Canary Islands will start with three drone units each.

All the unmanned aerial vehicles will operate at a height of 120 meters 9a height which should be testament enough of how powerful their cameras must be to detect violations and pick out the registration details of culprits from so high up the sky) and can fly at maximum a speed of 80km per hour.

The free-flying birds will stay in the air for about 40 minutes, after which time the battery change is made and they can resume patrols immediately.

As of now, the legal maximum distance the traffic drones can fly and stay in the pilot’s visual line of sight is two kilometres; however, the drones have the capacity to extend that to 10 kilometres if they were allowed to operate beyond the visual line of sight.

Having been granted permission to operate remotely piloted aircraft systems (RPAS) from the State Aviation Safety Agency, the DGT has since trained 35 pilots to fly and drones, and 60 more to manage the camera equipment installed on the drones. This is because the traffic department will be assigning a team of two operators to each drone – the pilot will be in charge of flight controls while the camera operator will be managing the imagery rig on the drone.

If the drones come across any traffic violations while on patrol, “the infraction may be notified on the spot by an agent of the Traffic Group of the Civil Guard or be processed later by the competent authorities. All penalties shall have the corresponding frame with evidence of the offence committed by the driver.”

“Since the beginning of the activity of traffic surveillance with drones, in 2018, the DGT has accumulated 500 hours of flight with these systems, has tracked more than 55,000 vehicles and has detected more than 600 violations.

“It has become one of the most effective means of detecting the use of mobile phones behind the wheel (they represent 12.5 percent of the total infractions detected with RPAS), the incorrect use of belts and child restraint systems (15.9 percent), and overtaking cyclists without respecting the minimum safety distances (four percent).


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