Coming to a road near you. Artificial Intelligence cameras.

New tech will take pictures of law-breaking drivers at the whee

Love it or loathe the thought of it, Artificial Intelligence is heading our way.

From helping with medical breakthroughs to making our daily route planning easier, it’s already having a major impact on all our lives.

In some cases, we might not even realise it – when we ask the TV remote to find a certain box set – but it’s gradually becoming part of our everyday routine. 

It’s happening on the roads too as safety initiatives strive to save lives, reduce injuries and keep us moving smoothy and safely.

The latest AI development is targeting drivers using hand-held devices at the wheel by using the new technology to look inside their vehicle and provide enhanced film evidence. The cameras, launched after a series of trials around the UK, can show clearly whether drivers are using their phones or travelling without a seatbelt.

Safety campaigners say their inevitable spread beyond the initial two trial locations in London and Devon and Cornwall will help save lives. 

In 2020, the last year for which Government figures are available, 17 people were killed and 499  injured at the hands of mobile phone using car, van and lorry drivers.

The UK’s first free-standing AI camera, on one of Devon and Cornwall’s busiest roads, filmed nearly 300 drivers using mobile phones or failing to wear seatbelts in its first three days. Motoring bodies, police and local authorities support the use of AI in reducing accidents  caused by drivers who text or call ‘on the go’. The move towards full adoption is gathering pace as statistics reveal drivers are four times more likely to be in a crash using a mobile phone while driving.

Simon Williams, the RAC’s road safety spokesman. says: “Some may criticise these cameras for unwanted snooping, but the reality is that police increasingly rely on technology to catch drivers breaking the law because it’s impossible to have a police officer on every street corner.” A National Highways trial of new AI-enhanced camera technology is currently underway in 10 police force areas as part of a trial set to run until March 2025.

It relies on new tech mounted to a vehicle, trailer or gantry to give multiple cameras various views of the driver and their passengers. Police research shows drivers are four times more likely to be in a crash if they are using a mobile phone while driving – and twice as likely to die if not wearing a seatbelt.

If successful, the trials, in Durham, Greater Manchester, Humberside, Staffordshire, West Mercia, Northamptonshire, Wiltshire, Norfolk, Thames Valley and Sussex force areas, will be rolled out nationally.

AI makes it easier to process and enhance images to better assess whether motorists are putting other road users at risk. Remember, hands-free systems like Bluetooth or Apple Car Play are not illegal.
Drivers face fines up to £500 for not wearing a seatbelt on top of penalty points. Using a mobile phone while driving can mean a fine of up to £1,000 and six penalty points, rising to £2,500 if driving a lorry or bus.

The National Highways trial operates similarly to Redspeed’s Sentio speed camera on the A23 from Lambeth in London to Brighton which uses 4D radar technology capable of scanning drivers and passengers in a vehicle.

Being trialled in partnership with Transport for London, it has higher-resolution cameras, is solar powered to keep it running overnight and has the option to connect to DVLA databases to  check for valid tax and insurance.

Campaigners opposed to the 7,000 speed and traffic cameras on the UK’s roads say the advance of AI is a further threat to people's privacy.

But Simon Williams adds. “Drivers who stick to the speed limit and obey the law have nothing to worry about regardless of what cameras are in place. It’s also worth remembering that all cameras must be painted yellow so they’re plainly visible to drivers.”

Insurance companies say the spread of AI in keeping uninsured and dangerous drivers off the nation’s roads is essential for the safety and security of all our families.

Research by motor insurance firm shows 48% of drivers in the UK recognise the role AI speed cameras could have in making roads safer, but one in five also think they’re an invasion of privacy. 

Road safety analysts AECOM, who manage and deliver highway and road projects for government and private industry, say education is the only way to make the roads safer and keep traffic.

Its lead research professional Dr Jamie Uff, heavily involved in the AI roll out, says. “Despite the efforts of road safety organisations to change behaviour through education, numbers of people killed or seriously injured because of unsafe driving practices remains high. The use of technology like this makes detection of these behaviours straightforward.”

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