Eye in sky on dangerous drivers

Starting at 3 p.m. today, four helicopters will be flying across Greece in an intensive bid to increase traffic safety during the busy holiday month of August. This pilot program will be evaluated at the end of the month and could be extended for a year. According to the plan, announced yesterday by Public Order Minister Giorgos Floridis, one helicopter will be flying over Attica. A second one will keep an eye on the Athens-Thessaloniki highway, up to Pelasgia in central Greece. The third will monitor the highway between Athens and Patras in the Peloponnese. The fourth will be used in the north to monitor roads and the border. Three helicopters belong to the police and a fourth will be rented from Olympic Airways, with the possibility of another two being hired from the airline. Equipped with the latest surveillance technology (including heat-seeking cameras) and communications equipment, the craft can immediately inform police on the ground when they see something. They will be flying at a relatively low altitude. On weekdays, they will watch out for dangerous driving and the behavior of heavy vehicles, especially with regard to their being overloaded or unsteady. At weekends, reckless drivers and trucks ignoring the weekend ban will be targeted. The helicopters will also be used to combat crime and illegal immigration in the border areas. They are expected to be especially valuable against narcotics smugglers. Initially, the equipment aboard the helicopters will be used mainly to analyze operational issues. But after the program is evaluated at the end of August, legislation will be passed allowing the helicopters to be used in fining drivers. The crew of the helicopter will photograph the license plate of an offending vehicle and the owner will be sent the fine.