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New AI cameras clamp down on drivers using mobile phones at the wheel

A trial using AI cameras to catch those using their phone while driving has been extended after number of convictions almost doubled

Using the phone while driving

The government has decided to extend its trial of using AI cameras to catch those breaking the law behind the wheel after the number of drivers “putting lives at risk” by using their mobile phones behind the wheel surged by as much as 90 per cent last year.

Since 2021, a handful of police forces across the UK have been trialling a new kind of camera technology which photographs passing cars and utilises artificial intelligence (AI) to identify whether the driver in the photograph is using their phone or not.

Pilot testing of the tech has been eye-opening with regards to the size of the issue; conviction rates for those using their phone while driving rose from just 6,990 in 2022 to 13,332 in 2023 – a seven-year high. In fact, the Department for Transport estimates that as many as 400,000 drivers per year are guilty of using their mobile phones behind the wheel.

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To further clamp down on this, the trial scheme has now been extended until 2025, with 10 police forces now taking part nationwide: Durham, Greater Manchester Police, Humberside, Staffordshire, West Mercia, Northamptonshire, Wiltshire, Norfolk, Thames Valley Police, and Sussex.

The technology has been co-developed with Texas-based firm, AECOM, and is backed by the RAC. Spokesperson, Rod Dennis said : “Despite the penalties for using a handheld phone having doubled to six penalty points and a £200 fine seven years ago, it’s clear far too many drivers are still prepared to put lives at risk by engaging in this dangerous practice.”

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“AI-equipped cameras that can automatically detect drivers breaking the law offer a chance for the tide to be turned.” Dennis continued, “The police can’t be everywhere all of the time, so it makes sense that forces look to the best available technology that can help them catch drivers acting illegally.”

Camera vans and lorries 

It’s not just AI cameras that are ensuring that Big Brother is always watching; police forces have also been utilising unmarked camera vans and even lorries to record the illegal activity of unsuspecting phone users.

“Despite a high-profile change in the law, it seems many drivers are still falling foul when it comes to using a mobile phone behind the wheel.” says AA head of roads policy Jack Cousens, adding that although the organisation was a lead campaigner for tougher enforcement, too many drivers are failing to heed the law.

“It seems too many fear missing out on their notifications,” he says. “The best thing to do is convert the glove box into a phone box and keep the mobile out of reach.”

Road tax convictions also on the rise

More figures from the Ministry of Justice reveal that car crime isn’t just limited to those scrolling TikTok when driving; the number of drivers failing to pay their road tax has increased substantially in the last year, with convictions almost doubling to 99,694.

Convictions for drivers jumping red lights or failing to comply with signs were at a 12-year high in 2023, the AA says, with 11,940 found guilty by magistrates. However, speeding convictions fell by 8 per cent, with 203,500 guilty verdicts handed out, while drink and drug driving convictions stayed at roughly the same levels as 2022.

Need to refresh your memory? Here's everything you need to know about the Highway Code...  

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Consumer reporter

Tom is Auto Express' Consumer reporter, meaning he spends his time investigating the stories that matter to all motorists - enthusiasts or otherwise. An ex-BBC journalist and Multimedia Journalism graduate, Tom previously wrote for partner sites Carbuyer and DrivingElectric and you may also spot him throwing away his dignity by filming videos for the Auto Express social media channels.

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