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Mobile phone menace – take this as warning sign!

Posted 16/07/18

New sign technology, being trialled in Norfolk, to shame drivers using hand-held phones cheered up motoring editor Andy Russell after he diced with a mobile phone menance on a busy dual-carriageway.

I’m all for technology which makes motoring safer and catches out those who flout the law. What’s wrong with speed cameras, fixed or mobile, or automatic number plate recognition (ANPR) cameras which check passing vehicles and alert police to potential criminal activity. I work on the simple premise – don’t break the law and you’ve got nothing to worry about. If you do, you only have yourself to blame. So I was cheered by a new mobile phone detection system to deter motorists using hand-held mobile phones while driving being trialed in Norfolk.

The first of its kind to be used on roads in the country, it can identify mobile phone use in a vehicle. I hope it’s something that can be rolled out across the country to shame drivers into kicking the hand-held phone habit – far better to educate than legislate. Shame there’s wasn’t one on a stretch of dual-carriageway, around St Albans in Hertfordshire, while I was filtering through two lanes of slow-moving traffic on my motorcycle.

I had been trickling through the gap between cars when I came up behind a large SUV in the outside lane but, every time I tried to filter past, it drifted to the left and the white line separating the two lanes. I thought the driver was deliberately trying to stop me getting through – unfortunately a few seem to want to prevent motorcycles making progress because they can’t – but eventually I got alongside when the traffic stopped, only to find the driver with his phone on his knee texting. While texting with his right hand, I assume he couldn’t keep on course holding the steering wheel only with his left hand, hence the reason he kept drifting across. In this case I had to give him a sign to encourage him to put his phone down!

Back in Norfolk, this new, cutting-edge mobile phone sign, in Holt Road near Norwich Airport for four weeks, is currently being used to educate drivers, alerting them to the fact they are breaking the law – let’s be honest doubling the penalty for texting or making or taking a call on a hand-held phone while driving to a £200 fine and six penalty points doesn’t seem to be having the desired effect.

This new technology can identify the type of signal being transmitted or received by the phone and whether being used via Bluetooth. When it detects a phone being used in the vehicle, the sign is activated to shame the driver to stop using it. The trial is a joint effort between the county council road safety team and Dereham-based vehicle sign technology company Westcotec but, while it cannot record specific number plates, data about how many times it is activated, and when, might prove useful for future police crackdowns. The sign will also be used at Holt, Toftwood, near Dereham, and Attleborough. So, if you are a driver who flouts the mobile phone rules, take it as a sign you have been warned! Is this new sign the way forward to combat the mobile phone menace?

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