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New South Wales rolls out mobile phone detection cameras (reuters.com)
32 points by watchdogtimer 5 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 58 comments

Anecdotally (I have no data or way to prove it) stop and go traffic seems about 20-30% slower to me than when I first started driving. It's only in the last few years have I literally seen people just sitting through a green light, but now taking 10-15 seconds to start moving after the car in front of you has is IMHO far more common.

Previously that was almost exclusive to dropping something on the floor, getting distracted talking to people in the back seat, adjusting the radio, or other things that were exceptions, not the rule. Now it's just failing to look up from the phone in their lap.

This is some Orwellian shit. An 88 million dollar investment combined with government-sanctioned Tom-peeping, to save an estimated 100 lives? That money would go a lot farther invested in modernizing vehicle safety, requiring lane assist features, etc. instead of fueling the surveillance state. I suspect those pushing this kind of thing are more interested in a solution where they can just defer all the hard work to "Artificial Intelligence" and avoid collaborating on meaningful change.

I disagree. Cars are killing machines, and should be constantly tracked at all times. Over a million dead every single year, 40k in the USA, and 3 every day in Australia. And that does not include the indirect deaths from pollution, urban sprawl, lack of exercise, etc....

> That money would go a lot farther invested in modernizing vehicle safety

Such a meaningless statement.

People shouldn't even be in cars most of the time that they are. In Australia, we are addicted to cars, where a large part of the population can not move without them. Disgusting.

> Over a million dead every single year, 40k in the USA, and 3 every day in Australia.

No one is contesting this, and it's good context for visualizing the supposed 100 deaths/year reduction that this $88mm investment would achieve. We'd still be at ~1 million dead per year.

> Such a meaningless statement.

I gave a precise example immediately following the introduction of the high-level concept. I'm not sure how that's hard to grasp.

> People shouldn't even be in cars most of the time that they are.

Ok, but not an argument that this is an effective use of 88 million taxpayer dollars. You could probably prevent more deaths by spending that money campaigning for people to drive less resulting reduction of overall number of drivers, compared to these ridiculous cameras.

> Cars are killing machines, and should be constantly tracked at all times.

I prefer a proactive approach to safety (better, safer, smarter cars) than a reactive approach (better punishment). Besides, the overwhelming majority of auto incidents are accidental. How will surveillance prevent those? It's solving the wrong problem.

Think of the end game of either option. With true self-driving cars, mobile phone use won't be an issue. But if we make this monitoring acceptable now, the cameras and surveillance will remain. Don't let the Overton window shift.

Agreed. Cars should mostly be banned from any urban & sub-urban spaces, replaced by fully automated public transportation. Most people should not be allowed to drive a car, as they are physically incapable of safely operating it.

If there can be 2 timelines, I'm sure the 100 families in this timeline will be happy in 2022 that their loved one didn't die. Plus, how many injuries and economic damage were there?

Something that is often missed is that the number of lives saved numbers are often low - eg NSW apparently had "only" 354 deaths in 2018; but the under-reported number (imo, as an Australia) is the number of injuries (whether serious or not) which are not talked about.

Apparently NSW had ~10950 serious road injuries in 2018. That's a lot more. And, at least to my perception, the impact of serious injuries is under-appreciated (wrt it be under-reported) - in some ways it can be more impactful to those around the victim than death.

Then there are minor (or unreported) injuries which can often align well with the mobile-phone-usage/distraction type cause. Anecdotally, about a month ago I was nearly hit by a car that went through a very red light (ie had been red for a long time, it hadn't just changed) at a pedestrian crossing in front of me and I could see that they were looking at a phone. Luckily they didn't hit anyone. But depending on timing; they may have hit me (probably a non-serious-but-not-fun-injury) or they could have hit a child (probable death to my very untrained eye - it was after-school time and there were a lot of (young) primary school students on the same street).

I don't see how 88 million dollars is going to stop cars from injuring or killing the things they hit.

Who knows the actual efficacy of the 88 million; but the costs of car injuries/deaths look pretty expensive on the after-the-fact side (just found some US stats):

> On average, each crash-related ED visit costs about $3,300 and each hospitalization costs about $57,000 over a person’s lifetime

> There were more than 32,000 crash deaths in the US in 2013. These deaths cost more than $380 million in direct medical costs.

Of note, I'm very anti phones-while-driving, because to my (biased) perception, whenever I see a car doing something that seemed dumb/unsafe/ill-considered, I very (very) often see them using a phone or playing with a gps etc at the same time.




Pictures get taken at lights, tollway points, car parks already.

This is not much more intrusion. Whether it will help us much as they I don't know.

I do know that mobile phone use by drivers is a serious problem.

Lots of negativity here so far so I’ll chip in and say that, as a cyclist, motorcyclist, and pedestrian, I’m glad to see something happening.

Mobile phone use while driving has reached chronic levels. It’s a disgrace. Yes, the police could spend their days trying to catch people. But they aren’t, and if they do the letters in the tabloids excoriate them for it.

People have to stop using their phones while they drive. Maybe this will scare them in to a behaviour change.

(I live in the state of Victoria. NSW is our neighbour.)

This is coming to QLD too (along with $1000 fines), and I totally support it. Whenever I'm cycling in traffic, I see plenty of people on their phones. The worst is people swerving into bike lanes without looking - peripheral vision seems to be completely lost when a driver's mind isn't on the job.

In Vancouver there is no such things as peripheral vision, but that is not due to mobile phone use. Indicators are also optional. I am impressed how there is not a crash every second. When you drive here with a bike you basically know that any car will just cut your bike-lane at their convenience and turn right at a traffic lite, right into your path...

Absolutely. (Though I live in the same place :p).

The car driving culture throughout Australia is objectively pretty toxic. And I don't mean the addiction to cars + suburbia (that's a whole other topic). I just mean the general entitlement and objective hostility to any other community member, road user, or alternative use for roads/resources.

Anyone who's spent any time as a cyclist, motorcyclist, pedestrian will know not only that sense of entitlement, but also probably have been the target of active hostility and intimidation.

Mobile phone use while driving is objectively dangerous, and God forbid such standards be enforced while driving a dangerous chunk of metal on a public good.

I live in Sydney.

There were under 2 deaths per annum from mobile phone use in NSW according to Transport for NSW's own FAQ about this program [1].

With such a low attributed baseline for mobile phone implicated NSW driving deaths, it seems improbable that in the future there will be empirical evidence of improved safety outcomes due to this program.

An alternative for next-generation cameras would be focusing on the dozens of NSW pedestrian deaths every year [2] and in particular enforcement of the pedestrian right of way law [3].

As a frequent pedestrian I frequently encounter drivers unaware of (or ignoring) this right of way law. Camera enforcement would achieve a better ROI as the awareness campaign would motivate drivers to adopt a more charitable disposition toward all other types of road users (including cyclists) and help them understand a rule that is genuinely and widely misunderstood. It would also not require the same privacy intrusion as a camera engineered to photograph inside your car, and the empirical evidence would demonstrate fewer deaths (as drivers would be more aware of pedestrian's legal right to cross the road and would be more actively paying attention to this possibility).

[1] https://roadsafety.transport.nsw.gov.au/stayingsafe/mobileph... FAQ 14

[2] https://www.transport.nsw.gov.au/newsroom-and-events/media-r...

[3] https://roadsafety.transport.nsw.gov.au/stayingsafe/pedestri...

Did you really manage to find the citation for [1] (12 deaths, approx 200 injuries) without reading the next dot point under the same heading that noted that these figures are intrinsically underreported due to the difficulty of establishing conclusive evidentiary categorisation post-incident?

Presumably the acting hypotheses is also that a significant number of those incidents caused in [2] and the general phenomenon of [3] is exacerbated by mobile phone use.

> without reading the next dot point under the same heading

I read the quote, but as it was on a government web page discussing additional enforcement, I gathered they would have provided the most significant statistic to illustrate the safety criticality of such additional enforcement.

This seemed reasonable given that more than five years ago the NSW Centre for Road Safety was publicly stating mobile phone deaths are one of the "top five" causes of fatalities on NSW roads [4]. As such they have been aware of this factor and collecting significant causality statistics about it for an extended period.

Despite this they do not provide mobile phone death factors at all in their interactive tool [5] or any public reports that I could locate. The only public NSW mobile phone traffic death statistic that I could find was cited at [1]. If the government had more persuasive statistics than [1] (which they really should have given over five years of public assertions about the existence of such statistics) then they would have no hesitation publishing them at [1] or [5] or elsewhere.

> a significant number of those incidents caused in [2] and the general phenomenon of [3] is exacerbated by mobile phone use

Perhaps this is the case, but official NSW data on pedestrian trauma [6] does not reflect any mobile phone factors. The same document reports hundreds of pedestrian fatalities involving vehicles though.

In conclusion NSW's readily accessible official statistics reflect an annualised 2 mobile phone traffic deaths versus 54 pedestrian deaths over the same period. My comment simply argued focusing on pedestrian deaths would have been a better initial use of automated enforcement (and more importantly the education campaign and road sharing messages around it).

[4] https://www.drive.com.au/motor-news/phone-use-overtakes-not-... [5] https://roadsafety.transport.nsw.gov.au/statistics/interacti... [6] https://roadsafety.transport.nsw.gov.au/downloads/trauma-tre...

I wonder if it will be more accurate than an officer's eyes.

Those eyes are not always the best. I was pulled over once for talking on my cell phone. I told the officer that I had not been using the phone (which was only for emergencies, and was buried in a backpack). He argued with me pretty forcefully, until I invited him to check the call-list. My guess is that I was rubbing my ear at the instant he glanced at my car going by.

The cameras take a photo which would very likely be reviewed by a human first. And if the photo is very unclear you have some kind of proof to use unlike a police officer saying they saw it.

It confirms that in the article:

"Images that the automated system identifies as likely to contain a driver illegally using a mobile phone are verified by authorized personnel."

I wonder whether the system can tell the difference between the driver using a mobile phone, and a front/back seat passenger using one.

That can still get you booked in NSW, if police decide that it's contributing to dangerous driving.

Based on things I've seen during a morning commute, I hope it can detect bowls of cereal, electric shavers, and open makeup cases as well.

I think some context might help; Australia, or NSW already has pretty lengthy requirements for getting a drivers license, plus fairly strict road rules.

You have to "log" over a hundred hours of driving as a learner, and then you progress onto your "P" or probationary license; which is also in two stages, which restricts what you can do.

After you make it through both the probationary phases, you then have a normal (unrestricted) license.

NSW also issue's demerit points for offences; and for a little while now has had "double" points for offences, plus a no-alcohol tolerance (blow anything and you will likely loose your license).

The highest speed limit is also 110km/h on 3-4 lane free/high/motorways; but generally dual-lane is around 60-80km/h, and in built up area's it's 40-60km/h.

This strictness is after decades of road deaths for drivers and pedestrians: https://roadsafety.transport.nsw.gov.au/statistics/fatalityt...

It can be argued that advances in civil engineering and vehicles for driver/pedestrian safety have had a far greater impact than road rules, but causation/correlation etc. The introduction of mandatory seatbelts, airbags, ABS, better roads / infrastructure would also line up nicely with the chart but alas, that's not their narrative.

More recently - "distracted" driving incidents have been making the rounds, and I'm not surprised that the state gov wants to jump on this. I was honestly wondering why I've seen more police on foot at traffic lights waving down drivers and fining them for using their devices over the past week or two, and am not surprised to see this pop on the news either.

In Australia, NSW specifically is considered more of a "nanny" state - with the lockout laws and so forth.

Personal opinion:

It's fairly easy to get a license here - it just takes a few years (or you just make up your logbook as most youths do), and the testing standards are fairly low compared to Western / Northern Europe.

Parents are generally teaching their younger ones to drive, so teaching standards are incredibly varied and tend to be low.

Then there's also the allowance of almost all international drivers licenses being valid for 3-months, which is rarely enforceable; so you have a few drivers also unfamiliar with the road rules.

The money and effort would be far better invested in a more intensive exam, and regular checks of skills / standards, plus providing alternative means of transport.

This current push is just a gov-led posturing of "doing" something for the next election cycle.

Unfortunately the vast majority of drivers on the road didn't go through the regime you describe to get a license.

My mother got her license in the 1960s in a town with dirt roads. Quick loop of the main street, reverse park, hill start and the local copper gave her a license. She's never been forced to learn the rules for traffic lights, roundabouts, freeways, drink driving or any of the other modern amenities and rules.

You acknowledge that there are many factors which may have contributed to improved road safety, “but causation / correlation etc.” It’s hard to find good evidence when there are so many confounding factors. So what is the basis of your opinion that “money would be far better invested in a more intensive exam” and this policy is “just posturing for the next election cycle”?

The road toll is an important political issue in Australia. All politicians face pressure to reduce it, and it has gone down a lot, in per-person and per-car terms. It is still the second-most common cause of death for young people, after suicide. Since we can’t be sure if this new policy will work, aren’t you just “posturing” to avoid the political consequences of “not doing” something that might save lives?

How do these work? I’m sure that with the angles and tinted windows involved, these cameras would need to be quite invasive to be effective…

> The high-definition cameras use artificial intelligence to spot drivers, regardless of the weather or the time of day.

> The portable versions will be mounted on trailers and operate across the state.


This article has an image

> tinted windows involved

In Australia tinting is not allowed on the front windshild, and front side windows must be at least 35% transparent (according to https://www.polyfilm.com.au/window-tinting-laws ) which is quite enough for modern cameras during the day.

Who cares how invasive these are. A car is being driven in a public setting. There should be zero expectation of privacy. And I say this as a driver.

How can this camera be more invasive than a red light camera?

Red light cameras aren’t designed to look into your car.

They are when they’re designed to also identify the driver.

Why would such a thing be necessary when you can just grab the plates instead?

There was a political scandal in the UK when a politicians wife took points on her license for him, to prevent him getting a driving ban. The camera that clocked him only checked numberplates. She grassed on him a decade later and went to jail for her trouble.


In some countries (such as Germany) you have to be able to identify the driver in order to impose a fine. They actually send you a print-out of the picture along with the fine

Then it’s still the same as a red light camera

To prove that the owner of the car or at least the person registered to it really was driving the car at the time.

Now full disclosure, I don’t drive, but of my buddies that do, one received a ticket last year here in California in the mail that had a picture which clearly identified her (and me, I was in the passenger seat). If she fought the ticket, presumably they could pull this photo out and show that yes, she was in fact driving her own car. She didn’t fight the ticket.

Because then the owner denies driving it. Now, in some states they handle this sensibly, and the driver has to get the "driver" to own up or they are responsible. In other states, it is on the state to find the driver.

Because the liability falls on the driver, and that is not always the owner of the car.

If you want to assign driving record penalties to the driver of the vehicle, you need to identify the driver. If it's like a parking ticket, you can do that against the car.

It shouldn't be this way. The owner should be responsible, and it is up to them to find the driver.

Then you get stuff like one of the other comments linked, where people get someone else to take the punishment for them.

Good thing I hold mine down below the dash.

They could have just posted cops at problem intersections for a fraction of the cost but cops are human and sometimes cut people a break when they deserve one.

It's not about safety. It's about reminding people that if they step out of line for any reason they will get whacked because the government is always watching.

Let's assume a police officer costs the state $88,0000 annually (including salary, training, healthcare, equipment, etc). So $88M is 1000 additional officer years.

It's possible a camera and its installation will cost up to $500,000 (it's a government contract, after all). That would mean a camera needs to last 6 years to make it naively cheaper than an additional officer.

So ... I think the cost argument is more or less a wash. Cameras might last longer than that. Or be a bit cheaper than that. They're probably able to detect more offenses than a human, given their positioning.

I think there are more effective arguments to be made about the reversal of the onus of proof, about security of the video imagery, etc.

I’m not too sure if you’re talking Australian or US dollars there, but the starting salary of a NSW probationary constable is A$73,609 [1]. I’d say that means the total marginal cost of an additional police officer is around double what you’ve indicated in Australian dollars (so if you were using US dollars, it would probably be quite close).

[1]: https://www.police.nsw.gov.au/recruitment/the_career/general...

I agree with 150k AUD being a closer estimate. Maybe 125k. Once you include superannuation (big) and all other costs associated with maintaining an average foot patrol officer their fully-loaded yearly expense is going to be way more than 88k.

I imagine 88,000 per officer is understating officer cost in nsw.

To be fair, I've also assumed that 'it's not about safety' is a literal tabloid letter to the editor style comment, and I almost have a knee jerk assumption that anyone who uses that line hasn't actually done any math (and isn't inclined to).

They do put police at problem intersections, and will continue to do so.

It is about saving lives. Anyone who’s worked close to car crash first responders knows that mobile phones have become a big contributor.

How is this different to speed cameras, from a “surveillance state” stand point?

It is not about saving lives, and mobile phone distractions are not as bad as you think. Statistics are commonly misused.

Speeding kills your pocketbook 2 explores this in depth, fact checking accident statistics in BC: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wzmVCSfRR38

in all the US states I'm familiar with, speed cameras issue tickets against the vehicle, not the driver. the owner of the vehicle gets a fine but no points against their license. usually the camera is aimed in such a way that you can't see the driver in the photo, or the quality just isn't good enough to reliably identify them. so they tend to be a lot less intrusive than a camera that would need to see what's going on inside the vehicle. from the other comments, I gather speed cameras in some european countries may be more intrusive and actually identify the driver.

> It is about saving lives.

this is always the justification given for surveillance, and as always, it is unsatisfying. the bar for pointing cameras at the general public, most of whom have not yet done anything wrong, should be a lot higher. if it's truly a public safety crisis, we should be able to justify hiring some more traffic cops.

With respect, the US is hardly an example to be followed when it comes to road safety.

It comes down to whether you believe driving is a right or a privilege. If you believe it's a right then this does seem like an invasion of privacy. If you believe it's a privilege then there's nothing more objectionable about this than having a CCTV camera in your workplace.

> With respect, the US is hardly an example to be followed when it comes to road safety.

can't argue with that, point taken.

> It comes down to whether you believe driving is a right or a privilege. If you believe it's a right then this does seem like an invasion of privacy. If you believe it's a privilege then there's nothing more objectionable about this than having a CCTV camera in your workplace.

this part I do disagree with. cctv at work can only record what I do at work. I grudgingly accept that my employer gets to ensure that I don't steal company property or do other bad stuff at work. I'm also fortunate enough that I can choose to work for a company that doesn't have cctv in the office.

on the other hand, putting cameras all over the road gives the government the technical ability to track pretty much everywhere I go. they might not be allowed to do this legally, but it's funny how "mistakes" tend to happen in these situations.

if I lived in a part of the world where public transportation was truly good enough that I didn't need a car, I might have a different opinion on road surveillance. what I'm really getting at is this: unless I have done something specific to attract this attention, I should be able to go about my day-to-day life without the government surveilling me. for what it's worth, I see an awful lot of cameras in public transit when I visit NYC and london. is public transit also a privilege?

Have you done the math and checked their performance against each other?

Not a cop, but worked security back in my uni days (and our company was contracted out to provide a couple of mobile speed cameras) and I have to say I found those kind of shifts (where you're paid to do a repeated menial task in public and there's no way to slack off) were the WORST. I'd want that automated ASAP.

Seconded it not being about safety. In Victoria, traffic infringement revenue is included in the state budget. I'm assuming that the NSW government does the same, so at $344-$457AUD per offence, this is likely just another revenue generating exercise.

Total revenue from speed and red light cameras in NSW during the last financial year was $65 million: https://www.revenue.nsw.gov.au/help-centre/resources-library...

Total revenue for the NSW government in that year was $81 billion, with a budget surplus of $800 million: https://www.budget.nsw.gov.au/sites/default/files/budget-201...

Traffic cameras generate some revenue of course, but let’s be realistic – you could scrap them entirely and not even get 10% of the way towards a budget deficit.

> Seconded it not being about safety.

Drivers love pulling out this stuff for every fine, whether speeding, DUI or this. It is ridiculous. We get it, you don't feel you need to follow the rules.

sometimes it is painfully obvious that it is about revenue, even at the expense of safety: https://arstechnica.com/gadgets/2008/04/red-light-camera-mon...

Why shouldn't it be for revenue? I'd much rather road taxes be paid for by dangerous drivers than uniformly by everyone. Hell, they don't even have to be dangerous. If you could jump through some hoops to reduce your tax, then good! That means people who care about their money will pay less and people who have more important things to do will subsidize them. Just like supermarket coupons. In the case of those mistimed traffic lights, people who don't want to pay can just enter intersections more cautiously, as long as they know how it works.

As long as it is a fine for dangerous activity, then it could even be paid personally to some well known individuals instead of the government! That might be an even better incentive to drive safely if you feel a strong personal sense of unfairness at being fined.

There's no excuse for driving through red lights, speeding, or using a phone while driving. Anybody who can't help themselves doing these things is incompetent at driving and can protect themselves from fines by abstaining. People who occasionally make a mistake are still dangerous, but they won't pay many fines either so it's not a big problem for them to be fined once or twice in their life.

> Why shouldn't it be for revenue?

because it creates inappropriate incentives for the state. it incentivizes authorities to knowingly create unreasonable laws for the purpose of increasing revenue. a fine can be a good deterrent against breaking the law, and I'm certainly not saying they should just burn the money, but it's something you should be wary of as a citizen.

the rest of your post indicates a very trusting attitude towards government, so I doubt we are going to see eye-to-eye here in general. I really think you should reconsider the yellow light timings though; it is quite an egregious abuse.

a yellow light needs to have some minimum duration to be useful. you can't have a 1 second yellow on a 50mph road; there's no way anyone can stop that fast. yellow light timings are usually set so that drivers who are too close to the light to safely stop can pass through before it turns red and the cross traffic gets the green. shortening the yellow for one direction usually advances the green timing for the cross traffic. it's not just a "gotcha" fine; it actually increases the chance of collisions in the intersection.

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