The government will set aside $10 million in funding for high resolution cameras which detect drivers using mobile phones in next week's ACT Budget, as part of its longer-term "Vision Zero" road safety strategy.
The budget allocation is seen as sufficient to engage a supplier to deliver, install and maintain the cameras, as well as cover on-costs such as the staffing, associated information and awareness activities, and information and communications technology upgrades.
Confirmation of the camera roll-out comes as ACT Policing released data showing 1008 drivers were fined for using their mobile devices illegally last year, while 190 others received cautions.
However, traffic police privately conceded this represented only a very small proportion of the offending which occurred across the territory every day.
In NSW, the cameras have been in operation since December 1, 2019. Both mobile and fixed detection cameras were available from the manufacturer Acusensus, with the mobile unit mounted on a folding overhead gantry which could can be transported from one location to another.
Former ACT Road Safety Minister Shane Rattenbury said late last year NSW had done "most of the heavy lifting" in regards to the cameras' proof of concept, and this would make it relatively easy to duplicate this process in the ACT.
As occurred during the roll-out period in NSW, there would be a three-month "grace" period for ACT offenders during which warning letters would be issued and no fines or demerit points deducted. In NSW, more than 100,000 drivers were detected during the trial period.
The stipulations of the ACT government for the camera system were:
- All images of front seat passengers were pixelated and the cameras must not see into the rest of the car;
- All images captured by the cameras that did not contain evidence of a mobile device use offence were rapidly and permanently deleted;
- Only the minimum amount of data required to detect and enforce offences was retained;
- There was a defined use and disclosure of images captured by the cameras; and
- Obligations were met for the secure protection and encryption of the images.
As occurred in NSW, changes to the Road Transport Act were needed to shift the onus of proof to the defendant.
Under the NSW amendment, the presumption was "any object that is held by (or resting on) a driver of a motor vehicle in a photograph taken by an approved camera, is a mobile phone for the purposes of a mobile phone use offence".
The cameras were cost-neutral to lease because of the income they generated.
ACT Transport Minister Chris Steel said road safety cameras used in conjunction with police enforcement would "play a critical role in addressing high-risk behaviours on our roads".
In the ACT, the offence carries a minimum fine of $480 and three demerit points. If the driver is using the mobile for social media or to surf the internet, the fine goes up to $588 with four demerit points.
"The penalties are significant, and reflect the risk that driver distraction poses to the community," Minister Steel said.
"Every accident that results in serious injury or death is a tragedy and costs the community in some way; including through heartache to family and friends, loss in productivity to our city's economy and increased pressure on our health system."
The detection cameras to be rolled out in the ACT were focused down at an angle which allowed them to "look" through the windscreen, and could screen up to three lanes of traffic.
The cameras take three infra-red photos and feed them through an algorithm which builds an "offence score" using artificial intelligence.