New mobile phone detection warning system launched

12.00 | 9 October 2017 | | 10 comments

A new mobile phone detection warning system has been launched which can identify vehicles in which a mobile phone is being used for calling, texting or data purposes.

Developed by the traffic safety systems company Westcotec and unveiled at the recent TISPOL road safety conference in Manchester, the system comprises a sensor capable of detecting vehicles where there are active 2G, 3G and 4G phone signals, and an LED warning sign located a short distance along the road.

When the sensor picks up that a phone is being used, it activates the warning sign which shows an illuminated mobile phone icon within a bright red circle and diagonal red line.

The technology can detect if a driver is using Bluetooth and will not trigger the warning sign in these circumstances.

However, the system ‘finds it hard to differentiate’ between users in the vehicle, and as a result some activations may be triggered by non-driving occupants.

Wescotec’s Chris Spinks says the ‘vast majority’ of activations will relate to drivers, and he ‘doesn’t see a problem when passengers activate the sign’, because it’s all part of the education process.

Chris Spinks said: “This device is purely about education, warning drivers and being able to identify when the driver was on the phone. It is the first such system to have a direct interaction with a mobile phone offender.

“We are not currently connecting the system with enforcement, but we plan to work towards that.

“This system is without doubt ahead of the game. The strength of vehicle-activated LED signs is that they identify the offender and only trigger when they’re necessary. The warning will be obvious and will stand out.

“The vast majority of activations will relate to drivers, and we don’t see a problem when passengers activate the sign. In fact, it’s all part of the education message that using a phone when driving is not only illegal but very dangerous.”

The system has been designed and developed with the assistance of Dr Helen Wells, a criminologist with a specific interest in road traffic offences and roads policing who is based at Keele University.

Westcotec says early interest has been ‘considerable’ and the first system is due to go live in Norfolk later this month, with several other UK police forces expressing an interest.

Category: Mobile phones.



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    Any policy focusing solely on mobile phone use as an accident risk is misguided. Why? Because the evidence that simply talking on a cell phone increases collisions rates is weak (e.g., Green, 2001; 2017), despite the rhetoric to the contrary. This is obvious by simply looking at one simple fact: mobile phone use has increased dramatically over the last 15 years, but collisions rates have not. Where is the predicted explosion in road accidents? Moreover, the best studies that monitor driving under normal, naturalistic conditions find the same or *lower* amount of collisions and near-misses when a driver is talking on a mobile phone than when it is not in use (e.g., Klauer, Dingus, Neale, Sudweeks, & Ramsey 2006; Olson, Hanowski, Hickman, Bocanegra, 2009; Hickman, Hanowski, & Bocanegra, 2010; Young & Schreiner, 2009). These naturalistic studies are far more compelling than the artificial laboratory studies showing putative driver impairment or epidemiological studies (that) are usually based on second hand data, assumed models of untested validity and non-representative samples.

    The real issue risk factor is looking away from the road (especially more than 1.5 seconds) for whatever reason. It is visual distraction, not cognitive distraction that is dangerous (e.g., Liang & Lee, 2010). Using a mobile phone to text or email is extremely dangerous. But so is tuning the radio or looking at a map. Technology that merely determines whether a mobile phone is in use misses the point and penalizes many drivers who are not engaged in risky behavior.

    Marc Green, Toronto, Canada
    Agree (1) | Disagree (0)

    FAO Mark, Caerphilly

    If the sign triggers when any phone signal is ‘picked up’, then how will it distinguish between pedestrians & cycles using their phone and a driver using their phone? My point stands that if it detects EVERY phone signal, then the sign will be illuminated constantly, ergo, it’ll end up being ignored. In theory, it’s a good idea, but I don’t see how it will benefit road users. If anything, I can see it being labelled a detriment or distracting…

    William Scogin, UK
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    What about using your phone as a sat nav? Will it trigger the system?

    Patrick, Kingston
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    William, the system triggers the sign when it detects an approaching phone signal WITHOUT an accompanying Bluetooth signal.

    For enforcement I would expect the detector would be linked to a digital enforcement camera, such as are being rolled out for speed, red light and mobile. These capture both static and moving images when triggered and have to be examined as part of the NIP process. I suspect the next generation will also have image recognition to check for seatbelt use.

    Mark, Caerphilly
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    If the Mobile Phone sign flashes up at every BlueTooth phone connection detected in a car, then surely this sign will be illuminated constantly and therefore end up being ignored by road users? If it can’t distinguish between passenger’s phone activity and the driver’s phone activity, then, as already mentioned, a lot of time would be wasted trying to establish if the law has been broken…

    William Scogin, UK
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    If the technology can not distinguish between a driver or passenger using a phone and is eventually linked to enforcement, will this not lead to a tremendous amount of time and effort in trying to establish if it was a legitimate use of the mobile phone?

    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    I like that we’re taking the first steps to enforcing the law surrounding driving and using a mobile phone, however, I do have concerns surrounding this technology.

    “The technology can detect if a driver is using Bluetooth and will not trigger the warning sign in these circumstances.”

    My phone is connected to my car via Bluetooth purely for the advantage of playing my own music. I know many other drivers who do the same.

    In theory, a driver can continue to text, use social media, play games etc. without activating the sign, as their phone is connected to the car via Bluetooth.

    I think it’s unfortunately very easy to get around this, so pursuing this specific field of technology to enforce legislation surrounding mobile phone use will not work.

    As I say, great to see people/companies are making strides towards enforcement already!

    James Fee, Nottingham
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    David, I have seen this in action and had the technology explained to me at some length by the technical wizard who created it. Apparently the device differentiates based upon signal type, duration and strength, so black boxes won’t trigger it.

    Iain Temperton – Norfolk
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

    Don’t some black boxes (for the purposes of car insurance) use 3G/4G if available?

    David Weston, Corby
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    I would imagine that as with existing speed-triggered Vehicle Activated Signs, some drivers may fear that these devices also film/record the vehicle details, which can only be a good thing in terms of encouraging compliance.

    Hugh Jones, Cheshire
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)

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