AI cameras in Australia catch drivers on their phone

Australia is putting AI to good use, by introducing new detection cameras to catch drivers using their mobile phones. The scheme launched from 1st December, but will it work – and will we see this introduced in the UK?
AI camera capturing a driver using their mobile phone whilst driving
NSW have introduced cameras which use AI to filter out phone use. Image: Transport for NSW

Driving & mobile phones

It became illegal in the UK to use a mobile phone whilst driving back in 2003. And yet, we still see it all the time. The reason for this law, which is now commonplace around the world, is to prevent accidents.

Using a mobile phone is distracting, and was the cause of 34,247 accidents in the US in 2017. In the same year, 3,166 fatalities were caused by ‘distracted driving’ and, also in the US, 15,341 drivers aged under 29 were involved in fatal crashes. All were due to distraction or using a phone.

Those are some sobering statistics.

AI: the solution?

The potential of AI to enhance the way we live and communicate is extraordinary. All too often, we only hear reports of the ways in which it is being manipulated, or used for questionable reasons.

Facial imagining software can be used to create ‘deep fakes’, and we reported only today about how the Chinese government is using similar tech to monitor and control the movements of citizens.

However, there are also great positives. Also in China, interestingly, investors have created the world’s first fully AI news anchor. VAR is increasingly being used in sports to improve decision making.

New South Wales Government has found an innovative way to use AI to improve road safety standards. Their new mobile phone detection cameras were activated on 1st December.

Car crashed into a tree
Distracted driving caused 34,247 crashes in the US in 2017. Image: Flickr

How does it work?

The concept is preventative, rather than punitive. Andrew Constance, NSW Minister for Roads, says, ‘Some people have not got the message about using their phones legally and safely. If they think they can continue to put the safety of themselves, their passengers and the community at risk without consequence they are in for a rude shock’.

Detection cameras will be set up both with fixed cameras, and with mobile units. This echoes the way in which speed detection cameras are used throughout the UK.

AI identifies which drivers have been captured using their mobile through pattern recognition. For example, this will filter out all drivers with both hands on the wheel. Drivers not committing any offence will have their photos deleted within the hour, with AI automatically determining which require further analysis.

Those flagged are then passed on for manual review – by a human! If the image is not clear, this is deleted within 48-hours. If there is evidence of a mobile phone being used, this will then be dealt with accordingly.

The system has already been tested. The trial period captured 100,000 drivers illegally using their phones. This shows that the technology works – and also provides a staggering number of people still not adhering to the driving legislation!

During the first three months, drivers caught will receive a warning letter. If they persist with using a phone whilst driving, they will receive a $344 fine (about £180).

If the offence happens within a school zone, then the fine increases to $457 (about £240) and carries five ‘demerit’ points. These are similar to UK driving license points, and will double to ten demerit points during ‘double demerit periods’.

Mobile phone detection alert signal
UK traffic enforcement uses signal detection to warn drivers against using their mobile. Image: Applied Driving

What is the expected impact?

Bernard Carlon, Executive Director of Transport for the Centre for Road Safety in NSW, thinks it will be significant.

He explains that independent modelling has been used to anticipate the impact of introducing the new phone detection cameras. This shows that they could prevent around ‘100 fatal and serious injury crashes over five years’.

Will this AI be rolled out elsewhere?

I think it will. Thames Valley and Hampshire traffic enforcement have already trialled something new. This works differently, with a detector which identifies phone signals being emitted from cars – whether 2G, 3G or 4G.

If the phone is being used via Bluetooth, the detector identifies this too. Should a signal be identified, then a warning sign flashes at the driver to notify them that they have been spotted using a phone whilst driving.

The AI being used in Australia is far more sophisticated, and if the investment proves worthwhile I would expect to see this being introduced elsewhere.

I think this is a great way to use AI for the good. Nobody likes a traffic violation, but making our roads safer benefits us all. What do you think? An infringement on our civil liberties, or a low cost way of making the motorways of Britain a safer place to be?

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