High-tech road signs detect phone use in cars, flash a warning to drivers

Handling a phone while driving is asking for trouble, but plenty of people still do it every day.

A recent poll revealed that 26 percent of drivers in the U.K. use their phone behind the wheel, whether to make calls, check social media, or send messages.

In a bid to combat drivers’ phone use in the car, the county of Norfolk, near London, is piloting a new roadside system that flashes a warning to a driver when it detects they’re making a call.

It works via a scanner capable of detecting radio signals emitted by a mobile phone when it’s on a call. When it does so, an electronic sign further along the highway flashes a warning to the driver, telling them to stop using their handset.

According to Westcotec, the company behind the system, the scanner is able to differentiate between mobile phone radio signals and Bluetooth signals. As Bluetooth-connected calls are legal in the U.K., the sign won’t show a warning in such cases.

But in its current form, the technology has a number of limitations. First, it can’t tell whether it’s the driver or a passenger who’s using the phone, so on some occasions the sign will be displaying the warning unnecessarily.

Second, it won’t work if a driver is using internet services on their handset, arguably a far more dangerous practice than making a call as such use causes drivers to direct their gaze away from the road.

But Westcotec’s Chris Spinks hopes the system will nevertheless serve as a useful reminder to drivers about their phone use, and help to gradually change behavior over time.

“So many people, by force of habit, can’t resist using their phone,” Spinks told the BBC. “The system … goes some way toward remotely warning drivers that they can be detected using their phone.”

There are no current plans to use the system to prosecute drivers. Rather, the idea is to simply issue a warning to remind them to focus on the road rather than on their handset. Four of the signs are currently operational in Norfolk, and there are plans to install more next month.

In the U.K., drivers caught using a handset behind the wheel can be hit with a fixed penalty of 200 British pounds ($265), an amount that was raised from 100 pounds last year. The case also has the potential to end up in court where the fine could reach up to 1,000 pounds, together with a temporary driving ban.

Drivers of buses or goods vehicles who are caught using their handset behind the wheel can be find as much as 2,500 pounds.

Product Review

Screen snags aside, the Galaxy Fold is an exciting step toward a foldable future

Samsung's Galaxy Fold is the company's first foldable phone, with two screens, six cameras, and a dual-cell battery. The phone may be delayed due to display issues, but that doesn't stop us from asking -- what's it like to use?

Bigger isn’t always better: 5 of the smallest smartphones worth buying

Phones are getting larger and larger, but what options exist for the small-of-hand, or people who just want a phone they can use one-handed? In a world of phablets, some of the smallest smartphones can still pack a punch.

Which smartphone has the best camera? We found the sharpest shooters

They say that the best camera is always the one you have with you and that makes your smartphone camera very important indeed. Join us for a closer look at the best camera phones available right now.

Whether by the pool or the sea, make a splash with the best waterproof phones

Whether you're looking for a phone you can use in the bath, or you just want that extra peace of mind, waterproof phones are here and they're amazing. Check out our selection of the best ones you can buy.

Tesla Model S and Model X charge faster and go farther with the same battery

An all-new drivetrain for the Tesla Model S and X enables the EVs to travel farther per charge than the previous design. Tesla Model S Long Range sedans have a 370-mile range and Model X Long Range SUVs can travel 325 miles per EPA cycle.

2019 Ford F-150 RTR gets a light dose of off-road, style upgrades

Vaughn Gittin Jr.'s RTR Vehicles is turning its attention to the 2019 Ford F-150 pickup truck. RTR gave Ford's bestseller new suspension components and tires, as well as more extroverted exterior styling.

Electric truck maker Rivian scores $500 million investment from Ford

Alongside Amazon, Rivian can now count Ford as one of its backers. The Blue Oval will invest $500 million in Rivian, and will use the company's "skateboard" chassis as the basis for a future electric vehicle.

The best diagnostic adapters monitor your car so you don't have to

Sometimes called dongles, the best car adapters will tell you what's wrong under the hood while help you keep tabs on your family and routine maintenance.
Emerging Tech

Japanese taxis will use facial recognition to target you with ads as you ride

A Japanese startup is trying to reinvent in-taxi advertising by using facial recognition technology to identify the key characteristics of riders and then presenting them with appropriate ads.

Nvidia agrees with Tesla’s take on self-driving cars, but corrects specifics

Nvidia vice president Rob Csongor agreed with broad statements by Elon Musk at Tesla's April 22 Autonomy Investor Day. Csongor then took exception to what he termed were inaccuracies about Nvidia's self-driving car chip.

Stop backing into your neighbor's car with the best backup cameras

The right backup camera will allow you to better avoid vehicles and other obstacles without taking your eyes off the road, rendering "sorry, I hit your car!" notes a thing of the past. Here are our current favorites.

Waze vs. Google Maps: Which map app should you be using?

Waze and Google Maps are two of the most popular apps for those looking for turn-by-turn navigation, yet there are some notable differences to point out. Here, we examine both to decide which offers the best feature set.

Tesla posts $702M Q1 loss as deliveries fall sharply; Musk promises turnaround

Tesla lost $702 million during the first quarter of 2019 as deliveries fell sharply, and demand for the Model X and the Model S flattened. The company predicts it will again lose money in the second quarter.

Ambitious but not rubbish: The best Top Gear episodes

Since its relaunch in 2002, Top Gear has become required viewing for any serious gearhead. The great moments from this show may seem too numerous to count, but we've managed to pick some of the highlights from the first 26 seasons.