By ASHNA BHARKHADA
Mobile phone detection cameras were activated across the state this weekend in a new initiative by NSW authorities to catch drivers using their phones while behind the wheel.
A six-month trial earlier this year in Sydney, along the Anzac Parade and M4 Motorway, scanned 8.3 million vehicles of which thousands were caught using their phones illegally, adding up to more than in $34 million in potential fines.
In a public announcement made last week, Minister for Transport and Roads, Andrew Constance, said drivers need to get the message to keep their hands off their phones or they will be subject to losing five demerit points on top of a hefty fine.
“We’re allowing people to use cradles, we’re allowing people through their Bluetooth to make a telephone call and receive a telephone call but for goodness sake, do not text and drive, do not hold the phone up to your ear, or put the phone on your lap with the speakerphone on,” Constance said.
NSW is the first place in the world to implement an artificial intelligence (AI) system that’s programmed to capture images of illegal phone handling. An algorithm examines the front seats of vehicles and determines which images need reviewing, then two qualified people verify the offenses before fines are issued. For the first three months of the operation authorities will only send out warnings.
Forty-five cameras have been installed across the state in unidentified locations, including 2 in rural areas. The cameras operate night and day on a 24hour surveillance schedule in all weather conditions, including rain and fog.
Unlike speed cameras, drivers won’t have the benefit of being notified of a camera ahead. In an interview with Radio 2GB, Constance said that using a mobile phone while driving is just as distracting and dangerous as drunk driving. He claimed experts said that 100 lives could be saved with having the cameras in place, but it could be dropped dramatically with the signs.
“We’re trying to create a culture where you can be busted anywhere, anytime, like with RBT [random breath testing],” he said.
The AI cameras were invented by Acusensus, whose managing director Alexander Jannink lost one of his university friends to a bicycle accident with a driver suspected to be using their phone.
“After my friend James was killed by a distracted and impaired driver, I filled the walls of my office with ideas on how technology could have prevented this,” he told Car Advice.
According to Transport NSW, the revenue raised from the operation will be put back into a Community Road Safety Fund which supports important road safety initiatives such as school road safety education, high visibility police operations, school zone flashing lights and safety infrastructure like audio tactile, crash barriers and vehicle activated signs on high risk curves, reported Lifehacker Australia.