Hi-tech ‘spy-in-the-sky’ camera catches 15,000 drivers using mobiles at the wheel

Hi-tech ‘spy-in-the-sky’ camera catches 15,000 drivers using mobiles at the wheel


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The extent of mobile phone use while driving has been laid bare by a new spy-in-the-sky camera being trialled across the UK. The technology can take high-definition photographs of drivers through their windscreens as they drive past at speed.

Initial data from the trials suggested that as high as one in 200 motorists are using their phone while on the motorway.

That’s despite safety campaigners suggesting that if a driver looks at their phone for just two seconds at 30mph, they would be travelling ‘blind’ for 100 feet.

At motorway speeds, that same time looking away would translate to almost the length of a football pitch.

Almost 1,000 people are killed or seriously injured on UK motorways each year.

The six-month trial of a single camera caught 15,000 drivers holding their phones while travelling past, however the true figure is likely to be higher due to all lanes not being monitored.

The technology, which police have described as a ‘game-changer’ uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to instantly analyse pictures taken through the car windscreen in high definition.

It is already in use in Australia where it’s estimated to have reduced road-fatalities by a fifth in just two years.

Previously police were only able to catch drivers illegally using their phones by driving alongside them.

Tech expert Geoff Collins of traffic solutions firm Jenoptik said: “Current findings suggest one in 200 vehicles show mobile phone misuse. This is a worryingly high figure.

“Using a handheld mobile phone significantly increases the risk that a driver will be involved in a collision.

“But until now it has been difficult to monitor and stop this behaviour. These trials have proved that AI can flag up drivers who continue to flout the rules.”

But he suggested a change of law would be needed to prosecute those caught.

The new cameras can be fitted to overhead gantries or portable trailers, taking images in any weather and without blurring at speeds reaching 185mph.

Sophisticated software sifts through them in real-time, flagging any images of someone with a phone in their hand.

They would then be reviewed by a human moderator.

The 15,000 drivers already monitored won’t receive any punishment as the trial is a ‘proof of concept’.

But if the cameras receive legal approval then drivers who are caught would likely be sent a fine in a similar way to those seen speeding by current cameras.

Jeremy Phillips, National Highways head of road safety, said: “Safety remains our top priority and we want everyone to get to their destination safely.

“Sadly, there are still drivers who don’t feel the need to wear a seatbelt or become distracted by their phones.

“Our advice is clear, please buckle up and give the road your full attention.”

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