Smartsigns in the UK Now Able to Detect Mobile Use

Posted 3 years ago · 3 minutes to read

November 14, 2019

Last year, new road signs were installed in parts of the UK that can detect drivers’ mobile phone use in an effort to mitigate mobile-related accidents. The signs currently flash a warning to cars as they pass to discourage phone use while in transit, and the program’s data could be useful for possible future applications. Hopefully, by flashing a warning to drivers, awareness around the danger of using phones while driving can be raised. Read on to learn more.

Where are these road signs located in the UK?

The program was first implemented several months ago by Norfolk-based company Westcotec, working alongside the Norfolk County Council’s Road Safety group. Initially, the signs were installed in four separate locations around Norfolk, and it was stated at the time that these would remain there to be trialled before a potential roll-out across the UK. It’s unclear whether this trial is still underway, or whether Westcotec has decided to keep the program in one location.

The Westcotec website does currently state that the signs have received enquiries “from other UK police forces,” and from “Belgium, Finland, Lithuania, New Zealand and the United States.” (Source: Westcotec)

 How do these warning signs work?

The signage works by scanning the area for active mobile signals, including 2G, 3G, and 4G. If it detects a mobile signal in its radius, the digital sign flashes a warning down the road.

The influence on the warning signal is limited as it only displays an LED graphic of a mobile phone inside a red circle with a slash through it. This is because those behind the program didn’t want the warning to be overly distracting, which would defeat the purpose of the program in the first place.

The signs are the first attempt at directly interacting with a driver regarding mobile phone use. They’re designed only to be informative and don’t tell the driver to do anything specific; they only warn the driver that mobile signals are being picked up. There’s currently no system in place for either contacting law enforcement or recording number plates, but Westcotec has expressed that they would like to develop the product in this direction.

Hurdles for the program

While the concept is a good one, since mobile-related accidents are so prevalent, the implementation of the signage has already run into some snags. As it stands, the signs pick up all phone signals within a car, whether they originate from a driver or a passenger. The signs also can’t differentiate between types of signals—to the system, making a call, using Facebook Messenger, and using the Maps app all look the same.

So far, Westcotec has been able to integrate technology that can tell the difference between data use and Bluetooth, so Bluetooth isn’t picked up by the sensor. They also claim that internet connectivity isn’t included, but it’s unclear whether this means browser apps are excluded, or network traffic is excluded. Obviously, if it’s the latter, it doesn’t make much sense—the chance of having a network connection in your car is low.

Signage for the future

Despite some teething issues, newly-designed signs that are able to help motorists stay safer are a great idea. Across the world, we’re seeing more and more developments around land transport infrastructure. To find out more about Radiola’s range of smartsigns, get in touch with us today!