Norfolk becomes first place in the UK to trial new in-vehicle cell phone detection technology


A new in-vehicle mobile phone usage detection and warning system has been deployed in a pilot project in Norfolk, with the technology being the first-of-its-kind to be used on the roads in the UK.

Norfolk County Council’s (NCC) Road Safety team has been working in partnership with Westcotec, a local traffic safety systems developer and manufacturer, to develop and deploy a new system that can identify cell phone use from within a vehicle for use on the county’s roads.

The system has been designed and developed with the assistance of Dr Helen Wells, a criminologist with a specific interest in road traffic offences, driver behavior and roads policing, who is based at Keele University. The system comprises a sensor capable of detecting vehicles where there are active 2G, 3G and 4G phone signals, and an LED warning sign located a short distance along the road.

Using the latest technology, the unit is able to identify what type of signal is being transmitted or received by the handset, and whether it is being used via the vehicle’s Bluetooth system. As long as the activation meets certain pre-determined parameters, the sensor will pick up that a driver is using a phone for calling, text or data purposes and will activate the roadside warning sign, which shows an illuminated mobile phone icon within a bright red circle and diagonal red line.

When the relevant signal is detected indicating that a mobile phone is being incorrectly or illegally used within the vehicle, the road sign is activated as the vehicle passes, giving a specific flashing visual message that will prompt a driver to stop using their device.

There is no facility to record specific number plates at this time, although this is likely to be a future development. The Norfolk County Council road safety team will be working closely with the roads policing team to share statistics provided by the detection system. The initial identified locations of the detection units are in Norwich, Holt, Toftwood, and Attleborough. It is planned to keep the detection units on site for a month before being moved to a new location. Roads policing will then use the intelligence provided by the units to enforce at the same location.

“Using a mobile phone while driving is an enormous distraction and, apart from being illegal, puts the lives of the driver, passengers and pedestrians at risk,” noted Margaret Dewsbury, chairman of NCC’s Communities Committee. “We are delighted to have been able to partner with Westcotec to trial the new technology across Norfolk.”

Chris Spinks, specialist product sales at Westcotec, said, “Being a local company we’re delighted to be able to trial this technology first within Norfolk. We’ve worked very closely with the road safety team at Norfolk County Council to get to this position, and are glad that we’re able to assist them in promoting awareness about the dangers of mobile phone use in the car.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).