While I’m sometimes dismissive of a handful of new driving regulations, and feel that the authorities are too reliant on using technology to ‘spy’ on us, without discretion, lenience or the ability to put our case, there does come a time when they seem to get things right.

Until recently, to be prosecuted for using a mobile phone at the wheel, you had to be using the device for communication – text messaging or calls etc, and although there are circumstances that could see you prosecuted for using the phone for other uses, they were in the minority.

In 2018, a member of the public was convicted for using his phone to film the aftermath of a road accident while driving through it, he appealed the conviction in the High Court and was cleared. Lady Justice Thirlwall said: “The legislation does not prohibit all use of a mobile phone held while driving.”

“It prohibits driving while using a phone for calls and other interactive communication – and holding it at some stage during that process.”

Closing the loophole

Research by the RAC has shown that 17% of UK drivers admit to checking their phones for texts, emails and social media while driving, and 35% of the under-25s regularly do so.

In 2017, there were 773 incidents of road traffic collisions where the driver using a mobile phone was to blame, this includes 43 fatalities, and 135 serious injuries. Clearly, the drastic cut in police numbers (just under 30% in a decade) has exacerbated the problem.

But similar to a number of other legal actions and processes, the authorities are now turning to technology to enforce new regulations; new HD cameras that use a combination of ‘sophisticated algorithms’ and artificial intelligence to determine whether a driver is using their phone, and it won’t matter for what reason.

Hi-tech cameras

Highways England are currently trialling hi-tech cameras that attach to the overhead gantries, and are capable of automatically detecting, photographing, and sending to the relevant authorities, hi-def pictures showing the driver using their phone; a Notice of Intended Prosecution (NIP) will shortly follow.

Similar systems trialled in Australia earlier this year, caught more than 100,000 motorists trying to cheat the system (in just six months), and it’s hoped that there will be similar results in the UK. A spokesman for the Department of Transport (DfT) said that “some very early trial work on technology to detect mobile phone usage on the strategic road network is in place” and the results were encouraging.

The end of the Police

While this is yet another nail in the coffin for the police, with the government outsourcing more processes to technology, you’d have to argue that while technology may have many, wonderful uses, policing the roads to this extent shouldn’t really be one of them.

The reliance on tech means that the government (and it really doesn’t matter which one) can almost justify the decrease in numbers, spending and budget; with ‘criminals’ being caught 24/7 through the use of cameras, why should they spend more money on actual human resource to get the job done?

But this is a very short-sighted view (but would we expect anything less?) from the ministers and politicians – there will come a day when cars virtually police themselves; they already have the technology to adjust speeds, and of course when they’re fully autonomous, accidents will be fewer, speeding will be albeit impossible, and it won’t matter whether you’re making calls, sending video messages or updating your social media.

So then we could perhaps turn to other ‘real’ crime, except that the numbers of police will have dwindled so much, and the expertise in catching criminals forgotten, and the ‘thin blue line’ will be so thin, as to be non-existent.

Technology may be great for simple, repetitive and mundane tasks such as catching motorists flouting the law, but not great for chasing down the burglar running from a crime scene, or stopping the drug dealer from handing out parcels of junk on the street corner, for this, we need human resource.

Breaking the law

I’m genuinely pleased that the tech exists to catch drivers using mobile phones (for whatever reason), I think they’re a scourge of our society, and repeat offenders should actually lose their licence, but the politicians, law makers and authorities need to understand that motoring crimes aren’t the be all and end all.

Any monies saved through the use of technology should be fed back into the system to develop further resource, not be seen as a bonus to pay the politicians for sleeping in the Commons.

What do you think to the tech? Should repeat offenders lose their privilege to drive? Are the authorities heading down a slippery slope? Let us know in the comments.

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