South Gloucestershire Council has started using AI to catch drivers using their phones behind the wheel as well as those not wearing seatbelts.

The local authority has introduced the AI camera van in a bid to spot motorists breaking the law. The technology works by collecting images of the vehicles, which are then initially processed using artificial intelligence (AI) to analyse whether the motorists could be using a handheld mobile phone or if people in the vehicle are not wearing a seatbelt.

If the AI identifies a likely offence, the images are sent on for review by at least two specially trained operators, the council said. Where no offence is detected, images are automatically deleted.

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When the technology was used during a 12-hour survey last month, 150 people were detected not wearing a seatbelt and seven people were distracted by mobile phones whilst driving.

South Gloucestershire Council is currently using the technology for survey purposes only, and not for enforcement. The authority said the data collected in March has now been deleted, but the results of deploying the cameras will inform the council’s road safety team’s future plans.

Current figures show that there were 425 people injured on roads in South Gloucestershire in 2023, 69 of these resulted in death or serious injury.

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Pamela Williams, road safety education and sustainable travel training manager at the council, said: "We know that distracted driving and not wearing seatbelts are contributory factors in people being killed or seriously injured in road traffic collisions.

"Working with our partners we want to reduce such dangerous driving and reduce the risks posed to both the drivers and other people. We believe that using technology like this will make people seriously consider their driving behaviour and help make sure everyone using our roads gets home safe and well."

Dr Jamie Uff, Technical Director at AECOM and the lead research professional managing the deployment of the technology, said: "AECOM is really pleased to be continuing our work with South Gloucestershire Council and Acusensus. Despite the efforts of road safety organisations to change behaviour through education, the numbers of people killed or seriously injured as a result of these unsafe driving practices remains high. The use of technology like this makes detection of these behaviours straightforward and is providing valuable insight to the police and policy makers."