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A.I. camera system launches in Australia to catch drivers on phones

It seems that some folks just can’t resist using their smartphone while driving, the temptation to respond to a buzz or a ping all too great.

But such shenanigans pose a great danger, with everyone in the vicinity — whether pedestrians, cyclists, or those in other cars — put at risk by one person’s inability to keep off their phone.

To crack down on the perilous behavior, the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) has just launched a camera-based system designed to spot people in the act of using a mobile device while in control of a vehicle.

The system comprises fixed and mobile cameras that use artificial intelligence to work out whether someone is handling their phone while driving. The state says it’s the first time in the world that the setup has been used for such a purpose.

When the technology flags a potential offender, the captured data will be passed on to a human operator who will review it before reaching a final decision.

NSW’s Centre for Road Safety said a trial using the system earlier this year caught over 100,000 drivers using a phone when they shouldn’t have been.

The system officially launched in the state on Sunday, December 1. For the first three months, any driver caught by one of the mobile phone detection cameras will first receive a warning letter.

Then, starting in March 2020, those accused of using a phone while driving will be hit with a fine of 344 Australian dollars (about $230) — or AUD$457 (about $310) if the offense occurs in a school zone — and at least five penalty points on their driver’s license.

The program will expand gradually to carry out around 135 million vehicle checks on NSW roads each year by 2023, officials said.

Busy time of year

With cities such as Sydney and capital Canberra inside its boundaries, NSW has plenty of busy roads to take care of, with the new safety system hoping to make a difference as the state heads into a busy holiday period as people make more trips in their cars.

“As we enter a notoriously dangerous time of the year on our roads, 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 any time,” Andrew Constance, NSW’s Minister for Roads, said in release.

“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.”

In other efforts using A.I., the European Union is also looking to introduce a slightly different system where automakers would be required to fit the vehicle with inward-facing sensors to detect if a driver is distracted by their phone or showing signs of extreme tiredness.

Some automakers are considering their own systems, while driver-initiated solutions include a Do Not Disturb While Driving feature for iPhone, and various apps that sport similar functionality for Android.

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