Van that detects if drivers are holding a cell phone tested in the UK

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A van with technology that automatically detects drivers holding a mobile phone behind the wheel or not wearing a seat belt is being tested for the first time in the UK.

National Highways is working with Warwickshire Police to test the “sensor test vehicle” on motorways and main roads, and drivers who are caught can be prosecuted.

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

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

“During the trial, the most serious violations can be prosecuted, with others receiving warning letters, giving us the opportunity to explain how they were caught and asking them to change their behavior. Next time, they might not be so lucky.”

The first van of its kind, which will stand on the side of the road while in use, is equipped with multiple cameras that can record footage of passing drivers.

The images captured by the cameras are processed through artificial intelligence to determine if drivers were using cell phones and detect drivers and passengers without seat belts.

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

The latest road accident statistics for 2020 show that 23% of car occupant deaths in road collisions reported were not wearing a seat belt.

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

He said an RAC survey of drivers showed that 79% supported the introduction of this technology.

“We are extremely pleased to see the National Road Police and Warwickshire working together on this, and we very much hope that other police forces will follow suit in an attempt to make our roads safer,” he said.

National Highways said the research is part of its long-term strategy to reduce the number of people killed or seriously 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, head of road safety at National Highways.

The van is also capable of being equipped with additional technology to detect rear-end infractions in the future. A new rear camera was tested by National Highways on a stretch of the M1 near Northampton and captured 60,343 instances of vehicles passing very close in one year (October 2020 to September 2021).

National Highways currently uses three heavy vehicle taxis equipped with cameras and police drivers, with the elevated position allowing police to drive alongside the vehicles to film the driver’s unsafe behavior.

About 250 dangerous drivers per month are caught under the Operation Tramline program, with cell phone use and non-use of seat belts being some of the main crimes identified by the police.

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