The end of text & drive? Australia is first with phone detection cameras, raising privacy concerns


A pilot rollout of phone detection cameras is underway in New South Wales over at Down Under, and, if all goes well, will be bad news for drivers everywhere. How come? Well, the artificially intelligent cameras won't care that you have to send that chat line or take that call behind the wheel, and will automatically recognize that you are using a handset in the car. Most likely, it will all end up in you getting a fat, juicy ticket.

The cold, hard machinery won't care if you just have to post that zinger on Twitter, or if you need to like the beach pic of your crush, it will just fine you if it scans a rectangular object with the Apple, Samsung or Huawei logo on it.

We kid, the AI isn't that smart yet, but there will be up to 45 cameras, both fixed and portable, installed around NSW in the next few years, whose sole purpose will be to scan for phone-induced distracted driving.

After the software flags a vehicle and a driver, a human eye will have the final say whether the AI was right to determine cell phone usage behind the wheel, and the eventual wrong scans will be chucked from the file within an hour.

Thankfully, the authorities are giving a 3-month warning period so that the drivers get accustomed to the new cams. Instead of a $344 fine ($457 in school zones) and 5-10 points withdrawal, the drivers will be sent a warning until the end of March.

The high-res cameras can take pictures that are so accurate, that they can be used for other purposes, like seatbelt, or number of occupants in a transit lane enforcement, but for now the focus is on mobile phone use. 

Given that the province has some of the most draconian measures that only allow you to use the phone for calls, audio playback or navigation, and without touching it at any time while the vehicle is moving, some argue that the new cameras are simply put to fill the coffers of the administration. 

During the 3-month trial that has been running since September, the cameras caught more than 100,000 drivers using their cell phones in the car, which would've resulted in tens of millions in fines. The NSW minister for roads and transport, Andrew Constance, however, begs to differ:


Oh, well, there are no laws against smartwatch and fitness band usage just yet, but these are not nearly as fun to use as a smartphone. Apple's CarPlay and Android Auto, however, will be having a field day with the combo of restrictive laws and smart cameras to enforce them.

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2 Comments

1. Plutonium239

Posts: 1244; Member since: Mar 17, 2015

This is the best idea ever. So many accidents and near misses are caused by people screwing around on their phone while driving.

3. rossy

Posts: 47; Member since: Aug 23, 2013

Tollway fees are to improve roads, lottery proceeds are for education, and my social security deductions are in a "lockbox" waiting for my retirement. Heard it all before. These funds will looted like everything else the government takes.

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