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National Highways research van can detect dangerous driving

Drivers flouting the laws on seatbelts and mobile phones are facing the prospect of being caught by mobile cameras being trialled by National Highways.

A new van packed with detection equipment is hitting England’s motorways and major A-roads as part of a research project carried out alongside Warwickshire Police to understand the scale of the problem around these offences.

The ‘sensor test vehicle’ is built around a MAN TGE panel van, and is equipped with multiple cameras which can record footage of passing motorists. The images captured are then processed using artificial intelligence to determine if the driver was operating a mobile phone, or if any of the occupants aren’t wearing a seatbelt.

Technically, the van can also be used to detect tailgating, but this is currently not part of the trial.

The vehicle, highly visible with its reflective paintwork and huge roof-mounted camera system, will be stationary at the side of the road while in use. It will move around the county, being tested across different types of roads to better understand driver behaviour throughout the road network.

As part of this work, drivers will be sent warning letters by Warwickshire Police, informing them of the dangers of their actions. The letters will remind drivers that they could be fined up to £500 for not wearing a seat belt in addition to receiving penalty points. Drivers will also be asked to complete a short survey which will be used to inform National Highways’ research.

During the trial, the most serious breaches may also be prosecuted.

Government figures show that there were 420 collisions on British roads in 2019 in which the driver was using a mobile phone at the wheel, with 117 people killed or seriously injured in a collision where the driver was found to have been distracted. Separate figures show that failure to wear a seatbelt has been attributed to one in four road deaths.

Jeremy Phillips, Head of Road Safety, National Highways:

“Safety remains our top priority and we want everyone to get to their destination safely. Sadly, there are still drivers who do not feel the need to wear a seatbelt, become distracted by their phones or travel too close to the vehicle in front. We want to see if we can change driver behaviour and therefore improve road safety for everyone. Our advice is clear; please leave enough space, buckle up and give the road your full attention.”

Dr Jamie Uff, Technical Director - Strategic Consultancy, Transportation, AECOM:

“We are really excited to see the impact that this new technology has on the behaviour of drivers in Warwickshire. Our officers deal with the tragic circumstances of collisions where often innocent people have been killed or seriously injured because a driver was distracted by a mobile phone or someone was not wearing a seatbelt. These collisions are preventable but we need all road users to do the right thing and comply with the law to make our roads safer.”

Inspector Jem Mountford, Warwickshire Police:

“Despite the often-reported dangers of distracted driving and failing to wear seat belts, the numbers of people killed or seriously injured as a result of these behaviours remain high. The technology AECOM is deploying makes detection straightforward and is providing valuable insight to the police and policymakers on the current level of road user behaviour. We are really keen to use this equipment to raise awareness and help improve road safety for all.”

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