Unsafe drivers detected every six minutes

Unsafe drivers are being detected every six minutes on average in a UK-first trial of new technology.

National Highways said 152 drivers holding a mobile phone and 512 vehicle occupants without a seatbelt have been identified on the M40 and A46 in Warwickshire over a period of just 64 hours.

Passing vehicles are being filmed by a van with multiple cameras parked at the side of the road.

Analysis of the footage by artificial intelligence and humans determines if motorists were using a handheld phone or whether anyone was not wearing a seatbelt.

One driver was caught with one hand holding his phone and the other touching his face, meaning he had no control of the steering wheel.

Two others were holding phones and not belted up.

The van is being trialled for nearly three months in partnership with Warwickshire Police, which has issued more than 216 Notices of Intended Prosecution as a result of the scheme.

The use of the detection van is part of National Highways’ commitment to eliminating deaths and serious injuries on its roads by 2040.

Government figures show 18 people died in crashes on Britain’s roads in 2021 in which a driver using a phone was a contributory factor.

Some 30% of car occupants killed in collisions last year were not wearing a seatbelt, which is the highest proportion in records dating back to 2013.

National Highways’ road safety leader Jamie Hassall said: “Sadly, the results of this trial have shown that some drivers do not feel the need to wear a seatbelt, or become distracted by their phones.

“Using any phone while driving is dangerous. Driving is a highly complex task requiring a person’s full attention, as any error can be catastrophic.

“Drivers who talk on phones, both hands-free and hand-held, are four times more likely to be in a crash resulting in injuries.

“We want to see if we can change driver behaviour and therefore improve road safety for everyone. Our advice is clear: buckle up and give the road your full attention.”

Inspector Jem Mountford, of Warwickshire Police, said: “Whilst we prefer to educate drivers and passengers first, the new van is a fantastic tool to support officers in changing driver behaviour and enforcing the legislation for those reluctant to comply.”

He added: “We have been shocked at what we have seen during the trial.”

Dr Jamie Uff, a technical director at consultancy AECOM, which is providing the technology, said: “The data drawn from this trial has really indicated how vital it is that we have new technologies capable of detecting driving offences.

“The pioneering artificial intelligence is being utilised alongside confirmatory human assessment to make sure that the process is as efficient and accurate as possible.

“The data, which is being analysed solely in the UK, is allowing us to gain a huge amount of vital insight into driving habits.”

A decision on whether to roll out the technology on motorways and major A roads across England will be made based on the results of the trial.

Motorists can be handed six penalty points and a £200 fine for holding a phone when they are behind the wheel.

In the most serious cases taken to court, offenders can be handed a fine of up to £2,500.

The maximum fine for not wearing a seatbelt is £500.