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Say cheese, distracted drivers! Australia sets up traffic cameras to crack down on phone use

Say cheese, distracted drivers! Australia sets up traffic cameras to crack down on phone use
[Photo: Damir Kopezhanov/Unsplash]

Say cheese, Australian distracted drivers.

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The government of New South Wales is installing cameras to catch motorists who are on their phones while in their cars, according to an Australian Broadcasting Corp. report. And there’ll be no signs warning them that the cameras are nearby, unlike speed-trap cameras.

NSW plans to spend approximately the equivalent of $60 million on fixed and portable cameras at 45 locations around the state, best known for its capital, Sydney. The program launches in December.

The Associated Press quoted NSW roads minister Andrew Constance saying that it’s the first jurisdiction on the planet to use cameras to catch distracted drivers.

One of the two cameras in every pair snaps a picture of the car’s license plate, while the other aims at the drivers’ hands, according to the AP. AI determines who’s not touching their phones and moves on, while motorists who are breaking the law get their pictures taken. Those photos are reviewed by humans and then mailed to the offenders.

State officials tried out the technology by installing two cameras for six months, during which time they caught more than 100,000 distracted drivers (out of 8.5 million vehicle checks) in the act. They included texters, Facebook users, and a motorist who had a passenger steer the car, so both hands could be using the phone, ABC said.

“We have to unfortunately use the element of surprise to get people to think, ‘Well, I could get caught at any time,'” Constance told ABC. “I want behavior to change and I want it changed immediately. . . . It’s not about revenue; it’s about saving lives.”

Estimates are that the cameras could mean about 100 fewer fatal and serious-injury crashes over five years.

Using a cellphone while driving currently comes with a fine of about $235 and five points, but officials said there’ll be a three-month grace period for camera-generated tickets.

Examples of legal phone usage in NSW are not holding the phone but using Bluetooth instead, passing a phone to someone else in the vehicle, and using the phone at a drive-thru.

The government told ABC that it plans to increase camera usage, aiming for 135 million vehicle checks by 2023.

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