road signs and mobile phones
Mobile phone detection sign (Norfolk County Council)
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New road signs can detect mobile phones are being used in vehicles. The technology detects when a phone is in use within the vehicle and triggers a flash warning sign.

Road signs that know when a mobile phone is being used in a moving vehicle are being installed in Norfolk, in a bid to tackle usage behind the wheel.

The system, which can tell the difference between active phone calls and other activities based on the strength of a signal and how long it lasts, flashes up a red warning signal to drivers when it detects a call.

Road signs and mobile phones – only a deterrent for now

The technology cannot yet log number plates or be used to help catch offending drivers, but it is hoped it will act as a deterrent.

Holding a phone while driving was outlawed in the UK in 2003 but 23% of people admitted to taking a call in last year’s RAC Report on Motoring.

Road signs and mobile phones - driver using a mobile phone
(Jonathan Brady/PA)

Inspector Jonathan Chapman from Norfolk Roads Policing said: “This scheme is a good example of how we can work with local authorities to make using a mobile phone whilst driving as socially unacceptable as drink or drug-driving.

“Any scheme which prevents this kind of behaviour is welcomed. Using a mobile phone at the wheel is one of the fatal four road offences which can have devastating consequences if it causes a fatal or serious collision.

“We will be using the information provided by Norfolk County Council’s road safety team to help us target drivers in the future but the message is simple – leave your phone alone whilst you’re behind the wheel.”

Norfolk County Council’s road safety team have worked with speed and warning sign specialists Westcotec on deploying the next-level signs, which are a first for UK roads.

The system is able to simultaneously detect bluetooth signals so that anyone legally in a call via their car’s speakers is not wrongly issued a warning.

Although the signs are unable to log offending number plates, such a feature is being considered for development in the future. There is also no facility for the signs to record footage.

driver using mobile phone

For now, a counter will keep track of phone usage on the road to help authorities understand driver habits.

Diane Steiner, deputy director of public health said: “Our priority in public health is to make Norfolk a healthy and safe place to live and the new technology enables us to provide a reminder to drivers who may be using their handset whilst driving.

“Whilst this is still not a perfect science, the new generation of sign is significantly more accurate and reliable than the first.”

Hopefully this is just the first step. Signs or cameras that can automatically log and photograph drivers using their phones triggering a fixed penalty notice would go some way to stopping the numpties on our roads who think it is acceptable to drive at high speed whilst chatting or texting on their phone.

Let us know what you think in the comments box below.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. How useful will the figures actually be? I can’t think of a way in which the signal strength would be different if the phone was being held in the hand or being used hands free. Lots of people have hands free and use it safely within the law. If the sign flashes up for each of these – the sign itself will become a distraction to the driver worried that they will be penalised for doing nothing wrong.

  2. There is only one way which this technology can work. There MUST be photographic evidence to show the DRIVER is holding a phone in the hand. Without this corresponding evidence the police and courts would not be able to prosecute anyone as a detected live call being detected could be a passenger within the vehicle, so NRP and Front/Side facing cameras would have to be used in conjunction with the monitoring technology. Even here, I suspect the hardened mobile phone criminals will find a way to get round this technology; maybe by using speaker phone and leaving the phone on their lap, so the technology may detect the phone call but no Bluetooth signal. Nigel Freeney is correct in his comment when he says the sign itself will be the distraction, in the same way that speed check cameras that display your speed makes the driver take their eyes of the road to read the sign and then check their speedometer, usually at a place in the road that they should be watching the road very carefully. If the whole package is not available at the detection site then the authorities will have a hard time proving their case against the driver.

  3. I agree with Nigel Freeney, but it’s going to add to the argument that you shouldn’t use a phone at all when you’re driving – if you can detect it you can ban it.

    It’s not going to discriminate between the driver and a passenger except by taking a photograph, so I’m going to get a left-hand drive car to annoy the system.

    The claim is that in the seconds that the car is in range of the detector, probably in a line of busy traffic, it will be able to spot the difference between legal and illegal use – live traffic updates on the satnav is the first legal use that comes to mind.

    The more I think about it, the less feasible it seems; perhaps this is a rumour being put out by Norfolk County Council to scare us into obeying the law. If so, then although the intentions are good, it’s actually a hoax.

    Also, it’s badly written.

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