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UK police use AI to detect phone users in cars

Technology News |
By Nick Flaherty

Police in the UK have rolled out a camera system that uses machine learning to detect people using a mobile phone while driving.

The ‘sensor test vehicle’ (above) is being trialled by National Highways with Warwickshire Police and can also detect drivers not wearing a seatbelt. The system will be extended to detect tailgating vehicles in the future.

The vehicle is equipped with multiple cameras from infrastructure supplier AECOM which can record footage of passing motorists. Images captured by the cameras are processed using artificial intelligence (AI) to determine if motorists were using a handheld mobile phone and drivers and passengers were without a seat belt.

“Despite the often-reported dangers of distracted driving and failing to wear seat belts, the numbers of people killed or seriously injured as a result of these behaviours remain high. The technology AECOM is deploying makes detection straightforward and is providing valuable insight to the police and policy makers on the current level of road user behaviour. We are really keen to use this equipment to raise awareness and help improve road safety for all,” said Dr Jamie Uff, Technical Director – Strategic Consultancy, Transportation at AECOM.

UK government figures show that there were 420 collisions on British roads in 2019 in which the driver was using a mobile phone at the wheel. Separate figures show that failure to wear a seatbelt has been attributed to one in four road deaths.

AECOM previously worked with Australian road safety AI specialist Acusensus to trial a fixed camera that could detect drivers not wearing seatbelts and holding a mobile phone. The fixed camera was installed on the M4 in Berkshire last year and detected nearly 7,000 people failing to belt up and over 25,000 drivers holding their mobile phone in just six months.

“Safety remains our top priority and we want everyone to get to their destination safely. Sadly, there are still drivers who do not feel the need to wear a seatbelt, become distracted by their phones or travel too close to the vehicle in front. We want to see if we can change driver behaviour and therefore improve road safety for everyone. Our advice is clear; please leave enough space, buckle up and give the road your full attention,” said Jeremy Phillips, Head of Road Safety at National Highways.

The van is initially being employed for a around three months. Findings will inform the next steps and any future deployment.

www.aecom.com; www.acusensus.com

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