Van that detects if drivers are holding a mobile phone trialled in UK

A van with technology that can automatically detect drivers holding a mobile phone at the wheel or not wearing a seatbelt is being trialled in the UK for the first time.

National Highways are working with Warwickshire police to try out the “sensor test vehicle” on motorways and major A roads, and drivers who are caught may be prosecuted.

The initial three-month trial will determine how the technology can be further in the future.

Insp Jem Mountford, of Warwickshire police, said: “We are really excited to see the impact that this new technology has on the behavior of drivers in Warwickshire.

“During the trial the most serious breaches may be prosecuted, with others receiving warning letters, giving us the opportunity to explain how they have been caught and asking them to change their behaviour. Next time they may not be so lucky.”

The first-of-its-kind van, which will be stationary at the side of the road while in use, is equipped with multiple cameras which can record footage of passing motorists.

Images captured by the cameras are processed using artificial intelligence to determine if motorists were using a mobile phone, and detect drivers and passengers not wearing seatbelts.

Government figures show there were 420 collisions on British roads in 2019 in which the driver was using a mobile phone at the wheel.

The latest road casualty statistics for 2020 show that 23% of car occupant fatalities in reported road collisions were not wearing a seatbelt.

Nicholas Lyes, the head of roads policy at RAC, said: “For several years the RAC has been urging the government to explore how camera-based technology could reduce the scourge of drivers who put others at risk by using handheld phones while driving.”

He said an RAC survey of drivers showed 79% were in support of this technology being introduced.

“We’re extremely pleased to see National Highways and Warwickshire police working together on this, and very much hope other police forces follow suit in a bid to make our roads safer,” he said.

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National Highways said the research was part of its seriously long-term strategy to cut the number of people killed or injured on the strategic road network to zero by 2040.

“We want to see if we can change driver behavior and therefore improve road safety for everyone,” said Jeremy Phillips, National Highways’ head of road safety.

The van is also capable of being kitted with additional technology to detect tailgating offenses in the future. A new tailgating camera was trialled by National Highways on a stretch of the M1 near Northampton, and captured 60,343 instances of vehicles driving too close in one year (October 2020 to September 2021).

National Highways currently uses three HGV cabs equipped with cameras and police drivers, with the elevated position allowing police to drive alongside vehicles to film unsafe driver behaviour.

About 250 dangerous drivers a month are caught as part of the Operation Tramline programme, with handheld mobile phone use and not wearing seatbelts being some of the top offenses identified by police.

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