Smartphones are truly remarkable devices that can connect us to the sum total of human knowledge at a moment’s notice, but you shouldn’t be doing that while driving. Countries around the world are clamping down on distracted driving by banning the use of phones while in the car, but Australia is the first to leverage AI to catch people. The Australian state of New South Wales is the first in the world to deploy phone detection cameras on its roads.
While many places have mandated only hands-free phone use in the car, it’s notoriously difficult to catch anyone in the act. From the perspective of another car on the road, it can be impossible to tell if someone is just looking down or scrolling through Instagram. The 45 cameras will monitor drivers from both fixed positions on traffic signals and on mobile trailers that patrol the streets. In both cases, they look down on cars so the camera can see what people are actually up to.
Unlike the comparatively simple red light camera tech that has been in use around the world for years, it’s harder for a computer to identify cell phone infractions. Indeed, many images will show no wrongdoing at all, but that’s where AI comes in. The images captured by the phone-spotting cameras are reviewed by machine learning algorithms that have been trained to identify phones.
For the first three months of the initiative, drivers will only get warnings if the system spots them using a phone behind the wheel. NSW officials say this will help the populace get used to the more aggressive enforcement, but it’s also probably a way to make sure the system is working correctly. After the grace period expires, drivers will get smacked with a $ 344 AUD ($ 233 US) fine and five points on their licenses. The same ticket in a school zone will run as high as $ 457 AUD ($ 309 US) with 10 points.
Public safety officials believe this system could reduce driving deaths by 30 percent by 2021. Not everyone is thrilled with the prospect of phone-spotting AI cameras, though. Humans will look at the images flagged by the AI before sending out tickets, but some worry that drivers may find themselves with the burden of proof if the AI and human reviewers misinterpret what they see. For example, is it illegal to touch a phone or move it from one place to another in a car? That might look very much the same as “using it” to a camera.
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