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New safety tech trial catches hundreds of drivers breaking law

“We have been shocked at what we have seen during the trial,” says Warwickshire Police inspector

A trial of road safety technology being deployed in the UK for the first time has led to hundreds of motorists being caught breaking traffic laws, with a senior roads policing officer saying he is “shocked” at the number of offences recorded.

The trial, using equipment developed by the consultancy AECOM and run jointly by National Highways and Warwickshire Police on the M40 and A46, involved a “sensor test vehicle” equipped with Artificial Intelligence (AI) software that is able to recognise, for example, a motorist using a handheld mobile phone.

During the initial 64-hour period in which the van was deployed, it detected motorists breaking the law on average once every six minutes.

Warwickshire Police says it identified 152 drivers using a mobile phone illegally and 512 people not wearing a seatbelt – the latter, according to recent DfT casualty statistics, now a factor in a higher proportion of deaths of vehicle occupants than at any time since records began.

The force says that more than 216 Notices of Intended Prosecution (NIPs) were issued as a result of the initiative.

National Highways Road Safety Team leader Jamie Hassall said: “Safety remains our top priority and we want everyone to get to their destination safely.

“Sadly, the results of this trial have shown that some drivers do not feel the need to wear a seatbelt or become distracted by their phones.

“Using any phone while driving is dangerous – driving is a highly complex task requiring a person’s full attention, as any error can be catastrophic.

“Drivers who talk on phones, both hands-free and hand-held, are four times more likely to be in a crash resulting in injuries.

“We want to see if we can change driver behaviour and therefore improve road safety for everyone. Our advice is clear; buckle up and give the road your full attention.”

Inspector Jem Mountford of Warwickshire Police commented: “Whilst we prefer to educate drivers and passengers of cars, vans, HGVs and other vehicles first, the new van is a fantastic tool to support officers in changing driver behaviour and enforcing the legislation for those reluctant to comply. 

“Over 216 drivers have received Notices of Intended Prosecution and we have been shocked at what we have seen during the trial. 

“We have seen one driver with his phone to his ear and his other hand to his face so none on the steering wheel, and two separate drivers with no seatbelts on who were also using handheld phones.

“As well as fines, points and their job, drivers risk their own safety, the safety of passengers – often young children and the safety of everyone else using the road around them,” Inspector Mountford added.

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“That is not acceptable and we will continue our proactive operations to address these dangerous behaviours.”

The trial will continue throughout the rest of this month, following which National Highways and AECOM will review the results ahead of a decision being made on whether to roll the technology out across the country’s strategic road network.

AECOM’s Technical Director – Strategic Consultancy, Transportation, Dr Jamie Uff, said: “The data drawn from this trial has really indicated how vital it is that we have new technologies capable of detecting driving offences.

“The pioneering artificial intelligence is being utilised alongside confirmatory human assessment to make sure that the process is as efficient and accurate as possible.

“The data, which is being analysed solely in the UK, is allowing us to gain a huge amount of vital insight into driving habits.

“The trial is allowing us to differentiate between actual behaviour and reported/expected behaviour – meaning different conclusions or clarifications can be drawn.”

“It’s important to remember that every single incident of dangerous driving could potentially cause death or serious injury, and that is ultimately what we’re trying to prevent with this trial,” he added.

News of the trial comes during the annual Week of Action for the road safety initiative Project EDWARD, the acronym standing for “Every Day Without A Road Death,” further details of which can be found here.

Simon joined road.cc as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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