Australia Uses Technology to Catch Drivers Preoccupied with Phones

    24 September, 2019

    Australia's most populous state is setting up cameras as part of an effort to reduce the number of people preoccupied with wireless devices while they drive.

    Andrew Constance is Minister for Transport and Roads in the southeastern state of New South Wales. He said Monday that New South Wales would be the first area in the world to use the technology to punish drivers distracted with telephone calls, social media or text messages.

    Road safety experts are concerned about the growing number of accidents involving drivers using smartphones on the state's roads. They say drivers who use phones while driving greatly increase their chances of being involved in an accident.

    This Jan. 12, 2019, photo captured by a Mobile Phone Detection Camera and released by Transport for NSW shows a driver using a mobile phone while driving in Australia.
    This Jan. 12, 2019, photo captured by a Mobile Phone Detection Camera and released by Transport for NSW shows a driver using a mobile phone while driving in Australia.

    Constance said that the New South Wales government plans to place 45 Mobile Phone Detection Cameras across the state by December. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported his comments.

    Each phone detection unit contains two cameras. One camera takes pictures of a vehicle's registration plate. A second camera looks through the front window of a car or truck to see what drivers are doing with their hands.

    The units use artificial intelligence to set aside drivers who are not touching their phones. Human beings then confirm if the pictures show illegal behavior before a notice is sent to the vehicle's registered owner. A violation carries a fine of $232. Some cameras will be permanently set up on roadsides. Others will be moved, from time to time, around the state.

    Two fixed cameras took photographs of 8.5 million vehicles as part of a six-month test earlier this year. The cameras took photos of more than 100,000 drivers with their hands on phones. One driver was using a phone and another electronic device, an Apple iPad, at the same time. Another driver had a passenger guide the vehicle while they both held phones, the state government said.

    The government wants to expand the program to 135 million photo checks a year by 2023. New South Wales has 5.2 million registered vehicles.

    Not everyone agrees with the new program. Peter Khoury represents Australia's National Roads and Motorists' Association. He accused the government of using secretive methods to cut down on illegal phone use. The association supports tougher action against drivers distracted by phones. However, the group wants the government to set up signs warning motorists that phone detection cameras were operating in an area.

    Government modeling found that the phone detection cameras could prevent 100 deaths and serious injuries over five years.

    A total of 354 people died on New South Wales roads last year.

    Officials said more than 16,500 drivers had been fined for illegally using phones this year.

    Drivers are permitted to use phones in hands-free carriers and through wireless connections. But it is illegal in New South Wales to touch a phone while driving except to pass it to a passenger. The ban extends to drivers who are sitting at red lights or stopped in heavy traffic.

    Andrew Constance said the state government was easing the law to permit drivers to pay with their phones at restaurant drive-thrus.

    I'm Jonathan Evans.

    Rod McGuirk reported this story for the Associated Press. Jonathan Evans adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.


    Words in This Story

    artificial intelligence – n. the power of a machine to copy intelligent human behavior

    distracted – adj. unable to think about or pay attention to something; unable to concentrate

    detection – n. the act or process of discovering, finding, or noticing something

    plate - n. a metal plate on a vehicle that shows a series of numbers and letters that are used to identify the vehicle