UK's new AI traffic cameras monitor seatbelt use, raise privacy concerns

UK police forces are rolling out new AI-driven traffic cameras across England that can detect if a driver is wearing a seatbelt or using a mobile phone while on the road – despite privacy concerns.

At least ten police forces in England are now taking part in the artificially intelligent road camera pilot program, run by the American engineering and infrastructure firm AECOM in conjunction with the UK’s National Highways agency.

The AI technology will make roads safer for all users and assist in the National Highway’s ultimate goal of eliminating deaths and serious injuries on UK roads by 2040, AECOM stated.

“We know that distracted driving and not wearing seatbelts were key factors in a high number of incidents that resulted in people being killed or seriously injured," said Matt Staton, National Highways Head of National Road User Safety Delivery.

“Working with our police partners we want to reduce such dangerous driving and reduce the risks posed to both the drivers and other people," Staton said.

How the AI technology works

Developed by Australian tech firm Acusensus, the AI technology was first used by the Australian government to enforce illegal mobile phone use by drivers, successfully reducing the number of violators by six times.

The trailer-based road cameras being deployed in the UK use a combination of AI hardware, software, and a human team of analysts to help identify drivers using mobile phones or not wearing seatbelts while behind the wheel.

UK AI speed camera on van
AI-based road cameras can be attached to trailers and vans, or be permanently affixed to road signs. Image by South Gloucestershire Council.

“Images are taken and algorithmically analyzed in real time with any potential violations being sent to a team of AECOM analysts to review and check,” the company said.

The information is then passed along to the local police departments, who are expected to slap violators with significant fines – up to £500 for not wearing a seatbelt and up to £1,000 and six penalty points for using a mobile phone while driving.

“We believe that using technology like this will make people seriously consider their driving behavior," Staton said.

The pilot program is expected to run until March 2025 and will determine if the AI cameras will be expanded across the country with cameras mounted in fixed positions on road sign structures for unobstructed views.

AECOM said the captured data can also help police understand traffic condition and demographics to develop policies and targeted interventions.

Our work to date has highlighted the scale of the issue, has shown that technology can play a valuable role, and that there is much still to be understood about driver behavior given the new insights gained," said Dr Jamie Uff, AECOM Technical Director.

Uff, also in charge of deploying the innovative technology, said that “expanding the deployments and integrating data processing with police systems is an important step… making a significant contribution to road safety.”

Invasion of privacy vs. safer roads

UK drivers have mixed feelings about high-tech traffic cameras, which can not only see inside the vehicle but take a picture of the interior without using a flash, meaning the motorist will most likely be unaware they are under surveillance.

South Gloucestershire is one of the police forces testing the new technology, according to the BBC.

During a twelve-hour survey, the AI devices – attached to vans parked on the road – found 150 people were not wearing seatbelts and seven motorists who were distracted by their mobile phones, the BBC reported.

The images captured during the survey show the driver inside of the vehicle and were sent to specially trained highways operators for analysis.

The images are said to be automatically deleted if no violation is recorded, but it's not clear what happens with the images when offenses are noted.

UK AI speed camera interior image
Image taken by AI speed camera during survey by South Gloucestershire Police. Note that the driver is not wearing a seatbelt and has a mobile phone resting on their leg. Image by South Gloucestershire Council.

A recent poll by car comparison site showed nearly half of UK drivers, at 48%, believe that AI-assisted traffic cameras will help make roads safer.

Yet, another one in five people surveyed, at 21%, also think the cameras are an invasion of privacy.

"AI speed cameras will help catch drivers who break the law when behind the wheel, such as driving without wearing a seatbelt or for using their phone,” said Louise Thomas, Motor insurance expert at

“Although some might have some reservations, the majority see its importance as the cameras could help to crack down on distracted driving,” Thomas said.

There are more than 1,300 speed cameras currently in operation on UK roads, according to Included in that lot are 18 different types of cameras including ultra high tech, two-way, and red light variants, some even dating back to the 1990s, the Daily Mail’s This is Money reports.

The 10 police forces taking part in the expanded trial are; Durham, Greater Manchester Police, Humberside, Staffordshire, West Mercia, Northamptonshire, Wiltshire, Norfolk; Thames Valley Police, and Sussex.

According to the National Highways, research shows drivers using their phones are four times more likely to be in a crash, while those not wearing a seatbelt are twice as likely to die in a crash.

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