Should NZ adopt mobile phone detection cameras?

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Words: Matthew Hansen
15 Apr 2021

Australia’s progression towards drafting mobile phone detection cameras on a national level took another step forward this week, with the Victorian Government confirming a full roll-out of the technology across its state.

The news follows an extended trial period of mobile phone detection cameras in various states across Australia, including Queensland and New South Wales. Some commenced testing in 2019, while others kicked off the drive in 2020. Queensland is tipped to follow Victoria’s lead and adopt the technology in full.

The clever cameras are stationary, and often bolted to fixed infrastructure like power poles and traffic lights. Each works on a 24/7 basis, taking photos of every driver that passes by and using artificial intelligence to decide whether they’re using a phone unlawfully while driving.

In Victoria, the service will hit its full capacity by 2023. It will cost local taxpayers some AU$33.7million, but simultaneously it’s expected to be a considerable money-spinner (not for the taxpayer, admittedly).

Victorians caught using a phone by the system get an AU$496 fine and four demerit points. That may sound extreme, but it’s dwarfed by the AU$1000 fines that get handed to drivers caught on their phones while driving in West Australia and Queensland.

The question is whether similar technology could find a home on New Zealand roads, as phones continue to factor in local crash data as a leading cause of driver distraction.

In a brief statement to NZ Autocar, a New Zealand Police spokesperson said that the group intends to study Victoria’s phone detection camera results, adding that, for the moment, the camera technology isn’t on New Zealand’s immediate radar.

“Police [are] always interested in technology and initiatives to improve road safety outcomes. There are no current plans by NZ Police to introduce this technology but we will monitor the deployment in Victoria with interest,” said the spokesperson.

Local road safety has been a topic of discussion this week following the news that Skoda New Zealand would be partnering up with Street Smart; arguably New Zealand’s leading young driver training programme and formerly tied up with Holden’s Kiwi arm.

“Our road toll, our road crash statistics in New Zealand are really disgusting. They really are something we have looked at and talked about over many years. And effectively as a country we have done very little to improve the situation,” said Street Smart ambassador Greg Murphy.

“Last year, with Covid-19, we still had a road toll that we really should be ashamed of. It was disturbing to still see people being killed on our roads during four weeks of complete lockdown, and I think that says it all. There’s a lot of work to do.”

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