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New South Wales deploys AI-powered cameras to detect drivers using mobile phones

A trial of cameras earlier this year caught over 100,000 drivers illegally using a phone.

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New South Wales (NSW) in Australia is using cameras which detect when drivers are using a mobile phone at the wheel.

 

It is only legal to use a mobile phone in hands-free mode while driving in NSW.

 

Two cameras are used at each location – one aimed at capturing people with phones to their ears and a second at those using a phone in their laps. Each car passing a designated location is photographed and artificial intelligence (AI) pattern recognition weeds out potentially illegal behaviour – similarly, drivers with both hands on the wheel would automatically be cleared. Photos are deleted within 48 hours if no mobile phone use is detected either by AI or a human checker (images containing suspected mobile phone use are passed to a member of staff).

 

The programme will progressively expand to perform an estimated 135 million vehicle checks on NSW roads each year by 2023.

 

Bernard Carlon, Executive Director of Transport for NSW’s Centre for Road Safety, said a trial of cameras earlier this year caught over 100,000 drivers illegally using a phone.

 

For the first three months the new system is in operation, drivers caught by a mobile phone detection camera will receive a warning letter. After that, the penalty for offending drivers is a $344 fine ($457 in a school zone). Both scenarios will also result in penalty points.

 

According to reports, up to ten cameras have been switched on initially. The programme will progressively expand to perform an estimated 135 million vehicle checks on NSW roads each year by 2023, using around 45 cameras. No warning signs of the cameras will be used.

 

“Independent modelling has shown these cameras could prevent around 100 fatal and serious injury crashes over five years,” Carlon said.

 

Reducing road fatalities

 

So far this year, 329 people have died on NSW roads, compared with 354 people for all of 2018. The state has a target to cut the number of road fatalities by 30 per cent by 2021.

 

“There is strong community support for more enforcement, with 80 per cent of people surveyed supporting the use of detection cameras to stop illegal mobile phone use," Carlon said.

 

AI pattern recognition weeds out potentially illegal behaviour – similarly, drivers with both hands on the wheel would automatically be cleared.

 

However, a parliamentary committee recently warned that New South Wales courts could be flooded with cases relating to the cameras. The report said the system would reverse the onus of proof from police to drivers, with drivers having to show that, on the balance of probabilities, the object in their hand in pictures from the cameras is not a mobile phone.

 

A similar programme was rolled out in the Netherlands late last year.

 

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