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Aussie state drops $26M on AI to catch distracted drivers

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This article was originally published by Sarah Wray on Cities Today, the leading news platform on urban mobility and innovation, reaching an international audience of city leaders. For the latest updates follow Cities Today on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube, or sign up for Cities Today News.

The Australian state of Victoria is investing AUS$33.7 million (US$25.9 million) in ‘distracted driver’ technology which uses artificial intelligence (AI) to detect motorists that are using mobile phones at the wheel.

The announcement follows a three-month trial which assessed almost 680,000 vehicles and found one in 42 drivers was detected illegally using a phone.

The technology uses an AI-enabled camera system to capture high-resolution images of passing vehicles. It works in all traffic and weather conditions and during the day and at night.

Images that are deemed likely to contain a mobile phone offense are verified by a member of staff.

The trial was conducted while stage four COVID-19 restrictions were in place in Victoria.

“As a result, it’s anticipated the rate of offending could be higher when roads are busier and movement isn’t restricted,” a statement from the Victorian government said.

Seatbelt detection

Victoria plans to roll the technology out for enforcement by 2023, following further stakeholder consultation, technology testing and demonstrations, as well as a public awareness campaign.

The technology is part of Victoria’s Road Safety Strategy which aims to halve deaths and significantly reduce injuries by 2030, towards a goal of zero road deaths by 2050.

Research from Monash University Accident Research Center (MUARC) has estimated that widespread use of automated mobile phone enforcement could prevent 95 casualty crashes per year in Victoria.

The trial also found the technology can detect drivers who are not wearing a seatbelt, with one in 667 found to be committing the offense state-wide. Other dangerous behaviors, such as driving without hands on the wheel or with pets on laps, were also observed.

National trend

Danny Pearson, Minister for Police and Emergency Services, said: “Using your phone while driving is unbelievably dangerous, and this trial has showed just how common it is on Victorian roads.

“It’s unacceptable that so many Victorians are putting others’ lives at risk – which is why we’re investing $33 million to install this new distracted driver technology.”

A similar system has been deployed in New South Wales since 2019 and was described as a ‘world first’ at the time.

A spokesperson for the state of Victoria’s Justice and Community Safety department told Cities Today: “While NSW has already piloted and has recently started enforcing mobile phone offenses using the Acusensus technology, a separate Victorian pilot is required to assess the camera system for compatibility with Victoria’s existing Road Safety Camera Systems, in addition to assessing the overall performance of the new technology.”

Queensland has also trialed AI-enabled cameras to detect illegal mobile phone use and failure to wear a seatbelt. The state has issued a tender to appoint a vendor and plans to roll the technology out later this year.

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