UK "Lollipop" traffic rage fight goes technical

LONDON (Reuters) - British school traffic crossing helpers are being armed with new high-tech weapons in a bid to fight a growing number of so-called “lollipop” rage incidents.

A taxi drives through rush hour traffic in London August 23, 2006. REUTERS/Luke MacGregor

Lollipops are the “Stop” signs carried by the yellow-jacketed men and women who help children to cross the road at the ubiquitous zebra-striped pedestrian crossings near schools. Trouble is, many drivers fail to heed them and some become downright aggressive.

Now the signs are to be fitted with miniature cameras, one facing forward and the other backwards, to trap offenders, the Local Government Association (LGA) announced.

Authorities say both monitors and children are being subjected to a growing amount of threatening behavior, intimidation and swearing, especially during morning rush hour.

Motoring groups warned that measures needed to be put in place to ensure innocent motorists were not unfairly targeted.

Latest figures show there were more than 1,400 reported “lollipop-rage” incidents last year.

The high-tech signs, developed by a private firm and costing almost 900 pounds each, are likely to be introduced across the country in the coming months after more than 150 councils expressed interest, an LGA spokeswoman said.

Under British law, a lollipop stop sign has the same legal power as a red traffic light, with failure to abide resulting in a 1,000 pound ($1,969) fine and a three-point driving licence penalty.

“It’s unbelievable that we have to take this action,” the chairman of LGA’s transport board, David Sparks, said in a statement.

“But abuse and intimidation of lollipop men and women who are carrying out a vital service to the community will also not be tolerated. Motorists need to be made aware that they are committing a criminal offence.”

A former Hampshire-based lollipop man, David Francis, said he was seriously injured at a school crossing patrol in Gosport last year. He is still unable to walk unaided and continues to take medication.

The head of road safety for the Automobile Association (AA), Andrew Howard, welcomed the move but warned that innocent motorists could be unfairly hit if they did not see the monitors.

“At times people can be incredibly rude to them, so I think when people are being willfully dangerous they probably need do need this extra protection,” he told Reuters.

Editing by Stephen Addison and Paul Casciato