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Road Cameras Set To Catch Drivers Using Their Phones

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Handling a mobile phone – or any electronic device for that matter – whilst at the wheel, has long been outlawed in the UK. Cracking down on those that flout the clearest of rules however has proven difficult, sometimes with grave consequences.

Pioneering technology in Australia could be about to change that and make serial offenders think twice about sending a sly (and illegal) text.

Indeed, New South Wales has become the first jurisdiction anywhere in the world to introduce road cameras that target phone usage exclusively. Calling on AI they will issue fines to any drivers caught in the act. An official roll out is due in weeks on the back of a successful six-month trial, which upended no less than 100,000 vehicles.

So how does it work exactly?

Road Safety Plan

According to local news reports as many as 45 cameras will be erected across the state by Christmas. These will be a mixture of fixed and portable devices so as to guard against cunning drivers identifying where they’re positioned. More on that later.

Every unit will encompass two cameras – one focused on registration plates, the other zoning in on the cabin itself. This second lens will monitor hand movements of both the driver, and anyone sat beside them. And for good reason too; in one of the 8.5million cars checked between January and June a passenger was seen steering whilst the driver was presumably checking their newsfeed. Priorities.

AI will ensure only those handling objects that look suspiciously like mobiles will have their image captured. Verification will come courtesy of the human eye, as pictures will be sent to authorised persons for review.

The technology itself has been developed by a company called Acusensus and will be up and running by the end of December. Their input is part of a wider operation titled Road Safety Plan 2021 and will help facilitate 135 million checks a year by 2023.

The Australian government are certainly bullish, believing they can cut the risk of accidents four-fold and prevent up to 100 fatal and serious injuries from occurring in the next five years.

Immediate punishment however will be delayed. Surprisingly, for the first three months of the scheme warning letters will instead be sent to guilty parties. Thereafter a set $344 fine (roughly £187) will be issued, with higher penalties imposed in and around schools.

Of the 5.2 million registered vehicles in the state, 16,500 drivers have been caught on their phone the ‘old-fashioned way’ in 2019. Expect that figure to rise exponentially.

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Controversy

While the merits of this new technology and legislation are undeniable it is not without controversy. Much of this centres around a decision not to pre-warn motorists of upcoming cameras, as is tradition with speeding equivalents. Critics feel the unsuspecting are being lured towards traps, albeit ones they should never fall into.

The National Roads and Motorists Association (NRMA) have welcomed the deterrent but not the secrecy around placement.

Further concerns surround the images themselves and just how long they’ll be kept on file. Authorities insist visuals will be stored for a maximum of 48 hours and that any captured without evidence of a phone never forwarded onto officers. Even so complaints this resembles the tactics of a nanny state persist.

Keeping a close eye on proceedings will be the British, themselves eager to reduce road deaths caused by drivers using phones; a figure totalling 33 in 2018.

Neil Greig, Policy and Research Director at UK road safety charity IAM RoadSmart, has championed the new tech.

“These detectors are still in their infancy, but it is clear they have growing potential to target hands held, and perhaps even ultimately hands free, use of mobile phones and give the police a reliable method of education and enforcement,” Greig explained. “As drivers come to realize that their phone use can be monitored, and the information used against them in court they are less likely to risk it.””

If nothing else the new cameras will facilitate ‘fear prevention’ on the streets of Australia’s most populated state and likely the UK soon after.

In both countries it is illegal to touch your phone whilst driving, unless handing it to a passenger. This principle applies when stopped in traffic or at red lights also. It was one seemingly forgotten by the individual captured using their phone and iPad at the same time in NSW during the testing period!

Now such recklessness will bring rightful sanctions. Australia are the first to move in a bid to cut a growing number of incidents - do not expect them to be the last.

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