It’s no secret that driving while texting or calling is a significant contributing factor in traffic accidents, and traffic fatalities, across the UK. In fact, it is among road safety group Think! Norfolk’s ‘fatal four’ activities; along with speeding, drink driving, and failure to wear a seatbelt. Police throughout the country have been cracking down on motorists caught operating any handheld device while driving and fines have been increased across the board. Still, the problem persists, forcing some local councils to consider new enforcement methods to help catch, and punish, motorists on mobiles. While still in a testing phase, the proposed solution involves placing phone signal detectors in high traffic areas, and using them to catch unsuspecting motorists as they text or talk while driving.
From Speed Cameras to Signal Detectors
For motorists who are already frustrated with the rising number of speed cameras throughout the country, the thought of yet another automated law enforcement tool will likely be met with a chilly response. But at least one city council wants to put similar technology to work catching motorists who are operating a mobile device while on the motorway. Norfolk city council has teamed up with road safety group Think! Norfolk to devise a system that will discourage motorists from flouting the law, and blithely operating their mobiles while behind the wheel. The system makes use of a phone signal detector which can spot when a mobile phone is in use, and then send a signal to a companion device. At the moment, while the system is being tested, the device being triggered is a lighted warning sign. Ultimately, however, the companion device could be camera, capturing the driver’s information and issuing a fine in much the same manner as the current crop of speed cameras.
Fines Yet to Be Issued
The phone signal detector trials have yet to be used to issue fines. However, Iain Temperton (a casualty reduction officer for Norfolk City Council) has said of the program, “It’s a test-bed, and if a new version of the technology comes along or it can be linked to a camera or automatic number plate recognition system it’s something we would look towards.” Such a system would, of necessity, require the approval of the Home Office. But if Mr. Temperton’s remarks are any indication, the spectre of automated phone signal detector fines may be in every driver’s future.
It is important to point out that these phone signal detectors are only in the early stages of testing. There are still some serious flaws to be worked out. First, the signal detector is unable to distinguish between drivers and passengers. Nor can it tell the difference between a standard mobile device and a legal hands-free system. More troublesome still, the signal detector can’t distinguish between motorists and pedestrians, which severely restricts its effectiveness.
Refining the Technology
Road safety advocate groups hope the new technology will help to reduce the number of fatalities caused by mobile using motorists. However, as we’ve seen, that technology will require a great deal of refinement before it can be pressed into service on the nations motorways. But Westcotec, the firm that manufactures the signal devices, believes that it won’t be long before speed camera style automatic fine systems begin to appear across the country. According to Olly Samways, one of the firm’s technical engineers working on the project, it is likely to take only “five to ten years” until the technology is advanced enough to be put into service.
Driving while texting or calling is a problem that isn’t going to go away any time soon. Currently, motorists caught using a mobile while behind the wheel can expect an on the spot fine of £100, along with three points on their license. But even with rising fines and penalties the problem persists. In this instance it doesn’t require a soothsayer to predict the future. Once the phone signal detectors are perfected, it won’t be long before Britain’s drivers start seeing speed camera style automated versions throughout the country.