14 February 2023

Mobile phone distraction in the sights of new cameras on Canberra's roads

| Claire Fenwicke
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Transportable mobile device detection camera

Transportable mobile device detection cameras mean you could be caught doing the wrong thing anywhere at any time. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

Did you know if you look at your phone for two seconds while driving at 60 km/h, you’re driving 33 metres completely blind to what’s happening on the road?

To combat distracted driving, mobile device detection cameras will start popping up in Canberra from today (14 February).

Transport Canberra and City Services deputy director-general Ben McHugh said the transportable cameras would initially be located on Yamba Drive, Canberra Avenue and Horse Park Drive.

“They will regularly move to various sites across the road network to provide maximum road safety benefits,” he said.

“Data collection during this phase will also help inform future road safety strategies such as placement of cameras and ACT Policing activities.”

In the coming weeks, two fixed mobile device detection cameras will also be installed on Hindmarsh Drive and Gungahlin Drive.

Locations were decided with the help of the Centre for Automotive Safety Research at the University of Adelaide, which included a review of the Territory’s crash data to identify locations with a high rate of crashes or links to distraction.

Other stakeholders were also consulted to analyse spots where vulnerable road users are at high risk, mobile device use is common, and where enforcement with existing police resources has proved difficult.

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ACT Policing has issued an average of 911 infringements and 260 cautions for using a mobile device while driving over the past five financial years.

But the actual rate of offending is suspected of being much higher.

Mr McHugh said the cameras would operate day and night and worked in any weather conditions.

“Drivers will not receive fines or warnings during this initial commissioning phase,” he said.

“Having these cameras out on the road early will help inform the community that mobile detection is coming and the importance of not being distracted while driving.

“This is really a behaviour-change mechanism to try to encourage the community to travel safely on our roads … to prepare if you do need to communicate when you’re driving your car, such as getting a cradle for your phone or pulling over to take that call.”

Warning signs will be erected at entrances to the ACT that these cameras are in use. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

An ACT Government awareness campaign will run across multiple communication channels to make sure drivers are aware these cameras are out there both before and when they’re in their vehicles.

While signs will be erected at the road entries into the Territory to let other drivers know that mobile device detection cameras are used throughout Canberra.

“The ACT Government’s rollout of mobile device detection cameras is another step towards our commitment to ‘Vision Zero’ with no deaths or serious injuries on Canberra’s roads,” Mr McHugh said.

The data will be reviewed annually to see if extra cameras will be needed.

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ACT Road Policing Detective Acting Superintendent Matt Craft said the cameras were one element of what’s needed to keep our roads safe.

“I would also like to see more police out on the road,” he said.

“Education works along with enforcement, so we need to have high visibility enforcement so members of the community realise that we can be anywhere at any time.”

Det Act Supt Craft said the data showed we had a “significant” driver distraction problem in the ACT.

“Our members are actively targeting road users who are distracted to try and reduce that road trauma.”

Mobile device detection camera

The transportable mobile device detection cameras, such as this one on Yamba Drive, will be hard to miss with their bright yellow trailers. Photo: Claire Fenwicke.

Warning notices will be issued to offending motorists from mid this year, with fines to be handed out from October.

Being caught using your phone while driving attracts a $498 fine and three demerit points.

As with other fines, there is an appeals process if you feel you received an infringement notice unfairly.

The cameras have been designed by AI mobile phone detection developer Acusensus as part of a $9 million deal over five years.

But overall, Det Act Supt Craft said the message was simple: “You don’t need to use it, put it away, have it away from you.

“That one moment of distraction could lead to fatal consequences.”

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Good to see the majority of comments approve of this.
In this day and age there is NO legitimate reason to need to handle a phone while driving.
With all the ‘voice assistants’ inbuilt into phones now, there’s no excuses that cut it (I know with apple you can tell Siri to answer the phone, on speaker at that).
If you need to use navigation, again, your voice assistant can do it.
If your car doesn’t have CarPlay a phone cradle for $10 from Kmart is sufficient to have it close enough to hear on speaker or some cheap wireless earbuds in 1 ear (please don’t put in both as that is dangerous too for being able to hear traffic/emergency services etc).
My opinion is if you get fined, you deserve it, the swerving I’ve seen from people concentrating on their phones is ridiculous.

Mobile phone usage in a moving vehicle has been illegal for years, so why have a period of grace if caught by the cameras?

James-T-Kirk4:44 pm 16 Feb 23

Given how BIG, YELLOW and BLEEDINGLY OBVIOUS these are from 300m away, there is no reason for you to be fined, unless you are actually distracted. I say turn the fines on from day 1.

Great idea. Now waiting for the next lot of cameras to detect the ever increasing drivers who insist on tailgating.

Why the grace period? Start fining people and claw back the cost of running these things asap.

@Sam Oak
Don’t faint!
You are spot on … the ‘ban on using mobile phones while driving’ law has been in place for several years.

Mike Van Der Zwart10:28 pm 14 Feb 23

It would be great if so much concern was given to the roadkill in Canberra. Nothing a wildlife crossing couldn’t fix. ACT has the highest roadkills in Australia for many years. Disgusting.

The ACT government refuses to put in pedestrian crossings or overpasses so people can get across major roads, so why would they think of the animals? Then again…the animals may get protected first!

The trick is trying to get the kangaroos to wait for the green light before they cross – many public servants can’t even get their head around the concept.

Margaret Freemantle4:10 pm 14 Feb 23

And will taxi drivers looking at their ‘next job’ screens be also targeted??

James-T-Kirk4:42 pm 16 Feb 23

They shouldn’t – The fines are for using Mobile Phones. You can still use a CB or two way radio or dispatch tool.

And can also use the ‘entertainment systems’ in new cars too which aren’t really any different, although I almost never need to touch mine as Siri does basically anything I need in relation to it.

I have no problems with cameras targeting dangerous distracted drivers.

Perhaps they can also tweak the camera algorithm to let the public know when a police car was last seen on the road in that area too, but maybe the cameras don’t keep the footage for weeks or months since the last sighting.

I heard on the news last week that police numbers where way down in Canberra. Also the worst public housing funding in the whole nation.

Way to go we will have an awsome tram system in 100 years servicing everyone woman and child but no police a massive homeless population and no public housing.

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