Following extensive trials earlier this year, the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) has launched the world’s first road safety program that will target illegal mobile phone use by drivers through the use of fixed and mobile trailer-mounted camera systems.
Transport for NSW’s (TfNSW) Centre for Road Safety revealed that the trial of the new camera systems earlier this year caught over 100,000 drivers illegally using a phone. For the first three months of the new enforcement program, drivers caught by a mobile phone detection camera will receive a warning letter. Following this period, the penalty for offending drivers is five demerit points and a A$344 fine (US$233), rising to A$457 (US$310) in a school zone, with 10 points added during double demerit periods. NSW Police will continue to enforce illegal mobile phone use and issue infringements as part of regular operations during the warning phase of the camera program. At the same time, the NSW Government has legalised mobile phone payments from behind the wheel, with drivers now permitted to use their phone as a digital wallet as long as the vehicle is stationary and off road, in a car park, drive-through or driveway.
The NSW Government’s new safety program comes after a six-month trial on Sydney’s motorway network of the Heads-Up camera system developed by Australian technology company Acusensus The Heads-Up detection system, which operates both day and night and in all weather conditions, uses two high-definition cameras to capture images of the license plate and the front-row cabin space of all vehicles to detect illegal mobile phone use. The system uses artificial intelligence (AI) to automatically review images and detect offending drivers, and to exclude images of non-offending drivers from further action. Images that the automated system considers likely to contain a driver illegally using a mobile phone are verified by authorized (human) personnel.
“The NSW Government is serious about reducing our state’s road toll and rolling out mobile phone detection cameras is another way we will do this,” said NSW’s Minister for Roads, Andrew Constance. “I want all drivers to know that if you use your mobile phone while behind the wheel of a vehicle in NSW you will have a greater chance of being caught, anywhere at anytime. Some people have not got the message about using their phones legally and safely. If they think they can continue to put the safety of themselves, their passengers and the community at risk without consequence, they are in for a rude shock.”
NSW’s Minister for Regional Roads, Paul Toole, added, “The program will progressively expand to perform an estimated 135 million vehicle checks on NSW roads each year by 2023. Whether you’re driving on a major highway or an isolated road in the bush, there’s no excuse for using your phone illegally; and now, there’s a much greater chance of getting nabbed.”
Executive director of TfNSW’s Centre for Road Safety, Bernard Carlon, noted, “Independent modelling has shown these cameras could prevent around 100 fatal and serious injury crashes over five years. There is strong community support for more enforcement, with 80% of people surveyed supporting use of detection cameras to stop illegal mobile phone use.”