THE most common anti-social driving complaints in Omagh involve excessive noise, with mostly young drivers excessively 'revving' and 'blipping' their engines, much to the distress of local residents.
This is according to a PSNI spokesperson, who spoke to the Tyrone Constitution in relation to persistent noise complaints from residents regarding unruly drivers in built up areas in Omagh.
And while the local police force admits that the intention of these drivers, who are commonly aged between 17 and 25, isn't to cause annoyance, they "cannot underestimate" the impact excessive noise has on residents living close to local meet-up spots and routes.
Local police have even sat in resident's homes, situated near areas where the drivers of often modified cars tend to congregate, to hear for themselves the persistent levels of noise that is heard.
Complaints have also been received in relation to the legality of some of the vehicles seen in Omagh, which often have lowered suspension, after-market exhausts and heavily tinted windows, as well as the mess left behind when large groups of drivers gather.
"The most commonly reported incidents of anti-social driving involve excessive noise," the PSNI representative said. "In many cases it is alleged that the drivers of modified vehicles 'rev' their engines unnecessarily and hold the car in gear for longer than necessary in order to generate as much noise as possible.
"There is an element of truth to this but it isn’t done with the intention of causing annoyance. We also receive reports of drivers ‘blipping’ their throttles when stationary either at lights or parked up in one of the many public car parks around the Omagh town area.
"Heavy acceleration (which is again linked to noise) and excess speed would come a close second in terms of the number of reports that we receive. The vast majority of these reports are received on weekend evenings when groups of like-minded drivers meet up and may be oblivious to the impact that these activities can have on local residents. We certainly wouldn’t underestimate the impact that this has on those living close to one of the meeting-points or on the routes in and out of Omagh."
According to police, officers have experienced first hand how "annoying" and "distressing" that this noise can be for residents.
"We have sat in residents’ homes to hear for ourselves the persistent levels of noise that can be heard even with doors and windows closed and as a result can fully appreciate how annoying and distressing this can be.
"We would appeal to the drivers of modified cars to remember that even Omagh town centre could be categorised as a residential area and that the noise generated by their vehicles can travel a significant distance.
"When this is multiplied many times over by the presence of large numbers of similar vehicles, the constant buzzing can completely ruin someone else’s evening."
Police are also contacted regularly about the legality of some of the vehicles seen in Omagh and beyond, which may have sometimes unsafe modifications.
"We would also be contacted on a fairly regular basis by people who are concerned about the legality of these vehicles and the dangers that they pose to other road users and pedestrians.
"These complaints centre on lowered suspension, after-market exhausts and heavily tinted windows. Where large groups of people gather they can become a little boisterous, which can be intimidating to passers-by. And there is the mess. When the vehicles depart there is often a large amount of rubbish left behind – despite the provision of bins."
According to police, the issue of anti-social driving tends to peak during the summer months. The issue was particularly prevalent during previous strict Covid-19 lockdowns.
"It is fair to say that the problem peaked during Covid-19 lockdown," the spokesperson said. "As younger people were unable to socialise in pubs and clubs, go to cinemas, attend sporting or other events, or even meet up in groups at one another’s homes, they arranged meets in car parks as an alternative means of socialising.
"The relaxation of Covid-19 measures has seen a commensurate reduction in the number and indeed the frequency with which vehicles have been gathering up in Omagh. It would, however, generally be the case that this is a spring or summer pursuit.
"This isn’t a phenomenon peculiar to Omagh. From speaking with my counterparts in other districts across Northern Ireland it is very clear that this car-culture is everywhere and that the complaints voiced by the residents of Omagh are echoed by people elsewhere."
At present, police have a number of ways to deal with anti-social drivers, including points, fines and even seizing vehicles and compiling prosecution cases. Over the course of one weekend, police issued a total of 80 tickets to anti-social drivers in the Omagh area.
In some cases, cars with significant defects are seized and will not be returned until the defects have been rectified.
However, police stress that their primary focus is to deter anti-social drivers, and not to discourage drivers from coming to Omagh, or friends meeting up in their cars. Police say that when they speak to drivers about such behaviour, they are generally polite and receptive.
"We have mounted a number of enforcement operations involving our colleagues from the Roads Policing Unit and our partners, Her Majesty Revenue Customs (HMRC) and the Driving and Vehicle Agency in Northern Ireland (DVA NI)," the police spokesperson continued.
"On one occasion we issued over 80 tickets in the course of a single weekend!These incidents can be dealt with in a number of different ways ranging from simple advice and guidance to Authorised Officers (AOs) seizing vehicles and placing prohibition orders on them that prevents them from being driven until the defects have been rectified.
"This effectively means that the drivers (and their passengers) have to make their own way home and arrange recovery for their vehicles. This allows us to employ a graduated response. We have identified a number of bodies who we are continuing to work closely with.
"These include other statutory agencies and educational bodies but the group that we view as the most important agent of change are without doubt the drivers themselves. When we get speaking to the drivers they are (almost without exception) decent, polite and it must be added – understanding – once we explain the reason for our talking to them. Our primary focus is to prevent or deter this type of behaviour.
"And by that we don’t mean to deter drivers from coming to Omagh or even from meeting up in groups, but to deter them from causing annoyance to others and to encourage them to show more consideration for local residents through a process of education."
However, police say that there are instances that drivers consistently refuse to listen and continue cause trouble. In these cases, escalated action must be taken.
The spokesperson said: "Where we decide to issue advice and guidance to a driver, we record details of both them and the vehicle so that if officers anywhere in the District have cause to speak to the same person for a similar matter within a short space of time, we will be justified in escalating our response accordingly. This could involve fines, points, or, in the case of persistent offenders, seizing vehicles and compiling prosecution cases.
"And we have mounted a number of enforcement operations involving our colleagues from the Roads Policing Unit and our partners, Her Majesty Revenue Customs (HMRC) and the Driving and Vehicle Agency in Northern Ireland (DVA NI)."
And with the New Year upon us, police said they are committed to deterring anti-social driving in Omagh, and will continue educating drivers.
"This issue remains a departmental priority. However, it must be noted that this is a recrudescent concern and that the modified car scene is a part of modern culture. We have to accept that this culture is here to stay and as quickly as someone moves away from the scene there are others who will move into it. We are, therefore, seeking to address the manner in which these cars are driven rather than looking to take them off the roads (dangerous vehicles excepted) altogether.
"As we have met with some success in reducing the volume of complaints received, it is our intention to continue in much the same vein as we enter 2022 but remain open to suggestions and offers of working partnerships.
"This isn’t an issue that police can deal with in isolation. We would encourage local residents to continue to report all incidents of Anti-social behaviour (ASB) to us – and this includes vehicular ASB so that we can make the most effective use of our resources."