The first ever road signs that can detect mobile phone use while driving are being trialled in Norwich and warn drivers that they are breaking the law. The new signs can detect when a mobile phone is being used inside a car – they flash a symbol of a mobile phone with a line through it, to prompt drivers not to use their phone while behind the wheel.

Detection software

This smart technology works by using a scanner that detects radio signals emitted when someone in the car is on their phone. The data is then sent to a sign further down the road which flashes the symbol to let them know they have been spotted. The system doesn’t monitor data connections, so anyone using an internet service on their phone can’t yet be seen.

The scanner can detect both mobile phone and Bluetooth signals and can tell the difference between the two. So, if someone is using a Bluetooth hands-free set, they will not see the warning sign because the light will disable when it registers they aren’t on the handset.

New sign program

The sign is the first of three, each costing $6,000, launched last week in Norwich, Norfolk. The idea is that the signs will act as a deterrent making people think twice about using their phone when they are in the car. Currently, the system can’t record car registrations or issue fines because it cannot differentiate between the driver and the passenger using the mobile phone.

However, data will be shared with the police to set up potential future crackdowns on the illegal use. Anyone caught using a mobile phone while driving can face six points on their license and a £200 fine, following changes to the rules last year. Despite this, one recent survey showed that 26% of drivers used their phone while behind the wheel to make calls, send messages or even check social media.

Educational tool

The technology was created by Norfolk County Council’s Road Safety team in partnership with the vehicle sign technology company Westcotec. Team manager, Iain Temperton, said that the technology was ‘cutting edge’ and it was aimed at use as an educational tool throughout the county to help deal with the problem.

Westcotec is also working with police forces around the world including in Slovenia, Argentina, and New Zealand on similar warning technology for mobile phone use. The company said the aim is to help police with a general view of where the illegal use of phones is most common and, therefore, where is worth concentrating efforts.

Popular ban

The ban on using mobile phones while driving is a popular one with the public, as shown by the annual British Social Attitudes Survey (BSAS). It found that 70% of people ‘disagreed strongly’ with the idea that it was safe to use mobile phones while driving. It is a rise from 56% in 2007 showing that more people are aware of the dangers than ever before.

There were still 3% of the people surveyed who ‘strongly agreed’ that it was safe to talk on a hand-held mobile phone while driving, showing there are still people out there who don’t know the dangers of talking and driving.

Clear cause of death

The facts show that using a mobile phone is very dangerous with 780 people injured in accidents in 2016, where the driver was either distracted or impaired by using their mobile phone. The new fine and points were introduced in March this year and were double the previous penalty, showing how seriously authorities view the problem. Moreover, for drivers of buses or heavy goods vehicles, the penalty is even higher, as much as £2,500.

However, the biggest problem remains that police forces don’t have the resources to be continually looking for people using their mobile phone while driving. It is why councils and the government are looking at new technology to help handle the problem, such as the system trialling in Norwich.

Compulsory do not disturb

Others are taking a different approach to deal with the problem. One Australian man is petitioning both Google and Apple to make phones automatically block incoming calls and texts when in a vehicle. It came after his friend was left in a wheelchair after being hit by a driver using her phone while driving.

Phones have a ‘do not disturb’ feature but users need to put this in force, but most people either don’t think about it or choose not to. But, the idea is to enforce this so that drivers can’t use their phones while driving.

On Apple, you can set up a Do Not Disturb While Driving, follow the instructions here for that: https://www.macrumors.com/how-to/do-not-disturb-while-driving-ios-11/ You’ll need a device running iOS 11 or higher to use this.

On Android, you can use the Android Auto app which allows the user to use their phone as a handsfree device. It will also send automatic replies to people that you are driving and cannot respond. Some models also work with Android Auto as a built in function. Have a look here for more: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.google.android.projection.gearhead&hl=en_GB

Whatever route is taken, there is a clear need for better enforcement of the rules in this case as, without it, more people will die because of someone ‘sending a quick message’ while driving.

Do you still use your mobile phone while driving? Or do you get mad when you see people doing it? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this matter.

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