Australia introduce world-first traffic camera to catch mobile phone users

The world’s first mobile phone detection camera regime was rolled out in Australia on Sunday in a bid to reduce the number of fatalities arising from phone-related crashes.

Authorities in New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state, deployed the cameras to assist in their plan to cut road deaths by 30% over the next two years.

According to officials from Transport for NSW, which manages the state’s transport services, the cameras operate day and night and in all weather conditions.

The government estimates that there were at least 158 casualties on NSW roads between 2012 and 2018 involving mobile phones.

Assistant Commissioner of NSW Police, Michael Corboy, told local media that the system will “change the culture” on the state’s roads.

The cameras use artificial intelligence to review images and detect illegal use of the devices, according to Transport for NSW, and authorities plan to take 135 million photos of vehicles per year.

The technology was trialled between January and June this year, in two fixed locations in Sydney, and with cameras moved every four days in other sites.

In the fixed locations 1.8% of road users were caught using their phones illegally.

A Parliamentary committee warned in November that because the enabling legislation reversed the onus of proof from police to drivers, local courts could be flooded with cases. It is up to the driver to show, on the balance of probabilities, that the object in their hand is not a mobile phone.

The committee said that if 1.8% of 135 million photographed motorists each year are caught, and just 3% of them challenge the penalty – it would see almost 73,000 cases in the courts every year.

For the first three months the system is in operation, offenders will be issued warnings. After that, the penalty will be a £180 fine on a standard roadway and £240 in a school zone, and penalty points.

In Australian jurisdictions making or receiving voice calls while driving is only legal when using a hands-free device. You can only touch a phone to begin or end a call if it is in a fixed harness or holder attached to the inside of the car, and you cannot hold or use the phone for any other purpose – including while stopped at traffic lights.

The penalties for touching or using a phone while driving in Australia are significant. In Western Australia, for example, offending motorists are fined about £210 and lose three points from their license, the same penalty as driving between 19 and 30km/h above the legal speed limit.

In 2019 to date, 329 people have died on the road in New South Wales. Last year it was 354, including the usually high-risk Christmas period.

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