Belgium: are traffic cameras to spot use of mobile phones illegal?
The use of mobile phones behind the wheel has been prohibited for a long time, but it remains a persistent practice. To increase the chances of being caught, MP Joris Vandenbroucke (sp.a) wants the police to use traffic cameras for this purpose.
Vandenbroucke has submitted a bill to this effect. In doing so, he hopes to reduce the death toll in traffic in Belgium significantly. The reason for doing this is a new camera system capable of detecting the use of mobile phones while driving that was recently tested by the traffic institute Vias.
According to the federal police statistics, over 100 000 drivers have been fined each year for using a mobile phone behind the wheel over the past ten years. “And that is probably just the tip of the iceberg,” says Vandenbroucke to Belga.
But moreover, fining is not an easy job for the police. After all, the police can only impose a fine today through red-handed catches. That is why Vandenbroucke wants to expand the technological possibilities to increase the chances of being caught. This can be done by adding mobile phone use behind the wheel to the list of offenses detected with traffic cameras.
30 deaths per year
The traffic safety institute Vias has started a pilot project in which a new camera system is being tested to determine mobile phone use behind the wheel. Every year, at least 30 people are killed and 2 500 injured in Belgium due to mobile phone use behind the wheel, says Vias. In Flanders, 300 fines a day are imposed for using a smartphone while driving.
Vias started testing the new camera system in Antwerp around December 2019. Different photographs are taken of each passing car. For example, images are taken through the windscreen, while another photo captures the vehicle’s number plate. Through artificial intelligence, the system only records the images on which the driver is presumably holding a mobile phone.
Based on this selection of images, the police can assess whether the driver is committing an offense. So, it’s the police officer who makes the final decision as to whether someone will be fined. The processing of images is thus exclusively done by the police: images without offense are immediately deleted, only pictures of the offender are shown to the police.
According to the newspapers of Mediahuis, the Data Protection Authority (GBA) has, in the meantime, opened an investigation into the tests that Vias is currently carrying out. The GBA is curious about the legal basis on which the traffic institute makes the images. Vias risks a fine of up to 560 000 euro because it could also have carried out the test perfectly following the law, for example, in an enclosed area with drivers who had given their prior consent.
Australia was first
In the Netherlands, after similar smart camera technology tests, the Dutch government has already decided to use these cameras. It is the first European country to use AI to catch offenders using handheld devices while driving.
The world’s first mobile phone detection camera regime was rolled out in Australia in December 2019, specifically in the southeastern state of New South Wales.
Calling or using the smartphone behind the wheel is a 2nd-degree violation in Belgian traffic law. When the police detects the violation, you will in principle receive a fine of 116 euros.