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I Think, Therefore I Cam: The Rise of Smart Cameras

Australian road users are no strangers to being monitored on the road, but the camera units we know, and might hate, could be getting smarter.

From speed and red-light detecting cameras to mobile phone detecting and seatbelt cameras, it seems that there is now almost a camera for everything.

These recording devices are used to influence road user behaviour and deter the population from committing an offence often involving one or more of the Five Fatal Factors: speeding, drinking and drug driving, distraction, fatigue and seatbelt/helmet misuse. Part of the Towards Zero strategy has suggested that using these types of technologies on our roads can reduce the number of fatal and serious injury crashes occurring every day.1

With approximately 1200 deaths occurring on our roads annually and 90% of these happening due to human error, it’s easy to see why there’s such a push for cameras.

Currently, some disagree with camera presence because they do not stop individuals from driving recklessly immediately after they are found committing an offence.

Resultantly, the argument for revenue-raising runs rampant when the topic of cameras comes up, but the latter’s ability to encourage self-policing shouldn’t be undermined. The ethics of using these devices for safety enforcement becomes questionable when they are hidden. However, their ability to prevent misbehaviour to an extent, when law enforcement cannot, is unarguably useful.

As car ownership rates rise, urban sprawl leads way to busier roads, and fewer officers remain available to police our roads, will we see more familiar-looking instruments on the road?

Yes and no.

The speed detecting cameras we see today utilise RADAR (Radio Detection and Ranging) or LiDAR (Light Detection And Ranging) technology to detect the speed and position of numerous vehicles in an enforcement area and are now easily recognisable on the roads.

However, while speeding remains the most significant cause of collisions on our roads, other risk factors, such as distracted driving, are starting to contribute more heavily to the numerous collisions occurring, resulting in the need for new camera types to be introduced. In fact, distracted driving has now become a contributing factor in 22% of car crashes nationwide. 2,3

Since mobile phone use is an unsurprisingly large cause of concern when it comes to distracted driving across Australia, there have been several mobile phone detection camera rollouts.

The first was introduced in NSW in December 2019, catching thousands of distracted motorists in the first week the cameras went live. With approximately 60% of Australian drivers admitting to using a mobile phone that isn’t hands-free while driving, the use of detection cameras could help prevent almost 20 fatal and serious injury crashes every year.4

Many of us are now familiar with both speed and mobile phone detection cameras. Where the first is white and boxy, newer mobile phone detection cameras look sleek and rectangular.

Regardless of its look, when a camera’s presence and the behaviour it is detecting is known, many avoid committing the respective offence… only when driving in its vicinity.

Occasionally, individuals who are caught by such cameras attempt to challenge their fines and penalties in court. This was particularly the case for those who, after being fined for mobile phone use, argued that the unclear photo could show them holding any phone resembling an object – like a packet of cigarettes or a chocolate bar.

The ability to recognise where cameras are and furthermore outsmart them with various arguments has allowed select drivers to continue dangerous driving habits without facing the consequences, resulting in the need for technology to adapt.

Variations of smart AI cameras are now being introduced across the globe to assist with traffic management and law enforcement. In some cases, deep learning algorithms and software that can detect dangerous driving behaviour can now even be configured into existing CCTV cameras. This technology can detect driver misbehaviour beyond the usual speed or red-light offences, detecting offences such as:

  • Seatbelt misuse
  • Mobile phone use
  • Red-light and stop sign running
  • Pedestrian crossing blockages
  • Incorrect lane turns
  • Median strip crossings
  • Tailgating
  • Incorrect bus lane usage
  • Illegal U-turns

Australia has yet to integrate this advanced type of software into the current transport network, but an inability to reduce the annual number of road deaths and serious injuries occurring could catalyse a look into its adoption.

For now, road users may be able to continue outsmarting the traditional camera, but as they evolve and slowly show up in more unexpected locations, this may become increasingly difficult to achieve.

Source: (1) (2) (3) (4)

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