New ‘smart’ road signs hope to deter dangerous mobile use

Mobile phone detection technology is being trialled in the UK

Female driver using her mobile phone

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Hi-tech road signs that can detect if a mobile phone is being used in a moving car have been brought to the UK for the first time as part of a special pilot scheme to reduce mobile phone-related accidents.

The road-signs, which aim to highlight the dangers of driving while using a mobile phone, flash a warning sign to motorists whose car is transmitting a usage signal.

Automatic detection

The road signs are programmed to detect when a passing car is transmitting a mobile phone signal.

The system comprises a sensor capable of detecting vehicles where there are active 2G, 3G and 4G phone signals, and an LED warning sign located a short distance along the road.

If the activation meets certain pre-determined parameters, the sensor will pick up that a driver is using a phone for calling, text or data purposes and will activate the warning sign. This shows an illuminated mobile phone icon within a bright red circle and diagonal red line.

This device is purely about education, warning drivers and being able to identify when the driver was on the phone. It is the first such system to have a direct interaction with a mobile phone offender.

How accurate are they?

While the technology is unable to detect whether the phone is being used by a driver or a passenger, it is hoped that the sign will awareness to the dangers of this type of behaviour.

The technology can, however, tell the difference between radio phone signals and Bluetooth signals, so if a driver is using a Bluetooth headset, the sign should not be activated.

Internet connectivity will also not be monitored, so those using internet services on their phones will pass undetected.

Where are the signs?

The pilot scheme is being trialled in Norfolk as part of a partnership between Norfolk County Council’s Road Safety team and local road sign technology company Westcotec.

The technology will be deployed in four locations across Norfolk initially, but if the trial is successful, it could potentially be rolled out across the UK.

Margaret Dewsbury of Norfolk County Council said:  “Using a mobile phone while driving is an enormous distraction and apart from being illegal puts the lives of the driver, passengers and pedestrians at risk.”

Chris Spinks of Westcotec said:  “We’re delighted to trial this technology. We’ve worked closely with the road safety team at Norfolk County Council to get to this position and are glad that we’re able to assist them in promoting awareness about the dangers of mobile phone use in the car”.

There is no facility to record specific number plates at this time, although this is likely to be a future development.

Mobile phone dangers

Using a mobile phone behind the wheel while the engine is running is illegal, and if caught out could land you with a £200 fine and 6 penalty points on your licence. If convicted within two years of passing your driving test, you’ll lose your licence.

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