Smart cameras to tackle smart phones in drivers' hands
ROADPOL member, the Netherlands, first in Europe to snap texting and chatting violators on the road
The smart cameras, here on a viaduct over the A28, that are used to monitor traffic for calling and app using motorists. IMAGE ANP
Smart cameras will clamp on texting, app using and calling drivers.
The unique for Europe measure is set to be introduced by the Public Prosecution on Traffic (CVOM) in the Netherlands.
Until now agents tackled the violations by intercepting drivers to the side of the road, requiring a lot of personnel capacity. Still, within just the last year more than 120,000 tickets were handed to drivers holding a phone behind the wheel, data from Institute for Road Safety Research shows.
“If the new smart cameras run all year round, that number will easily double. They see everything”, says national traffic prosecutor Achilles Damen. During the test period in just 6 hours two cameras shot more than four hundred drivers fidgeting a phone while driving - good for fines for almost 100,000 euro.
CVOM agents mount the cameras on overhead passes on highways. Thus due to the high
shooting angle a phone in driver's hands is easily spotted even if held low under the steering wheel. In addition a huge ammount of infrared light makes everything clearly visible. The software also perfectly distinguishes a phone from any other type of device like, for example, a shaver. This helps avoid manually assessing all photos, says Damen. Once a phone is detected by the device, the image ends up on the computer of one of the investigating officers in the Central Judicial Collection Agency. There, at the institution which processes the fines in the Netherlands, the final decision is taken.
As of now authorities have two such smart cameras at their disposal. “That's not much, but you have to start somewhere. I cannot yet say when we will expand, but from now on we can place these two anywhere in the Netherlands. So every driver can be caught”, warns Damen.The smart cameras work day and night regardless of the weather. They are mobile so they can be placed along any road throughout the Netherlands.
The sofware keeps faces out of the picture because of privacy concerns. In fact, for Dutch police faces are not even necessary for enforcement procedures. The reason is national law stipulates fines to be charged to the owner of the vehicle and not specifically to the actual driver.
Using a phone behind the wheel has been prohibited in the Netherlands since 2002. Recently the ban was extended to all mobile devices such as tablets or navigation systems. Clamping the device between head and shoulder is also forbidden. Anyone caught by the police can be fined 240 euros.
"The goal is for everyone to become aware that someone can watch anytime, anywhere. Not at your face, but at what you do with your mobile. That should make traffic safer”, says Damen. It is estimated one in three accidents is a result of distraction while driving, often by smart phone. Damen compares touching your phone behind the wheel to keeping your eyes closed for a few seconds while driving.
He admits there are issues to be clarified yet such as investigating officer assessment of images, drivers objections etc. ”We are now going to gain that experience”, concludes the national traffic prosecutor.
Still, drivers who were caught during the test period do not have to fear a fine yet. Smart enforcement will only officially start Monday, 7 Dec.
Since 2018, the National Police of the Netherlands which together with CVOM is under the Ministry of Justice and Security has been also developing its own smart camera system that takes comparable photos. This police system is operational throughout the Netherlands since the summer of 2020. The main difference is the angle of photography, explains police officer Henk Jansen. The MONO camera of the police takes photographs at a small angle to the road, so that a phone that is held near the thigh cannot be seen. And besides that; it is not a fixed camera, but it is mobile and can be used at an unexpected place for the road users. In 2021 the national police force will have 12 of those camera’s.
A driver is holding a cell phone while driving (Source: OM)