The distraction of the smartphone is often the cause of accidents. However, it is usually difficult to prove the use of mobile phones in the car afterwards. A pilot project in Rhineland-Palatinate is now intended to remedy this.
If the mobile phone suddenly rings while driving, or if a traffic jam intervenes, many people quickly reach for their mobile phone. Also at the wheel. Nobody knows exactly how often this distraction leads to serious accidents. Because in hindsight, it can usually not be proven.
That is now to change with a pilot project – in which Rhineland-Palatinate is a pioneer in Germany. The police can draw on the experience of their colleagues in the Netherlands. “The goal is Vision Zero: zero road deaths by 2050,” said Interior Minister Roger Lewentz (SPD) on Thursday at the presentation of the system developed in the Netherlands in Mainz.
If a driver looks at their cell phone for just one second at a speed of 100 kilometers per hour, they travel 30 meters without being able to perceive a sudden event or obstacle, Lewentz said. “30 meters quickly become 60, 90 and more,” calculates the minister. “People think they must always be available and not miss anything.” Marcel Masselink from the Dutch police says: “Everyone knows that it’s better not to do that. But the need to reach for the cell phone is great.”
Mobile phone cause of accident: New device for determining smartphone use will be tested from June
In order to reduce the number of fatalities in road traffic, the police were looking for a device that can determine cell phone use, reports Masselink. She couldn’t find one and therefore developed one herself, together with the computer scientists from the University of Utrecht. A small company in the Netherlands has been producing the devices since 2021, and 20 are already in use in the country. The Rhineland-Palatinate company now has the pilot device and will be using it from June for three months in the Trier area and then for three months in the Mainz area. Many other countries are also interested in the technology, Masselink reported.
A first test in heavy traffic on Autobahn 60 near Mainz on Thursday morning resulted in around 20 violations per hour – although a large sign pointed to the control. According to Masselink’s experience, between half and one percent of all drivers use their mobile phones while driving.
Monocam is the name of the system, one of the devices costs around 20,000 euros, the most valuable part of which is a high-performance laptop, as police officer Matthias Emmerich reported. The system works like this: the laptop and camera are mounted on a tripod and the oncoming traffic is filmed. The devices are connected to computers and screens in a police car that is not visible to the drivers. From there, the setting of the camera can be controlled in such a way that the drivers can be seen in three lanes, whatever the incidence of light. The camera only triggers in the live stream if a mobile phone and a corresponding hand position are detected with the help of the software.
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Monocam is well received in the Netherlands
Trained police officers then evaluate the violations found in the vehicle immediately on site. However, not all images are clear enough to stand up in court, and some have to be deleted again. Others, on the other hand, clearly show the driver using their cell phone or making a call and taking their eyes off the road. A truck driver no longer has a hand on the wheel.
In the Netherlands, people accept Monocam, says Masselink. The photos are clear and could be requested by those affected, and soon even be viewed on the Internet. Drivers convicted on Dutch roads have to pay 350 euros plus a fee of 9 euros. In Germany there is a fine of 100 euros and a point in the driving aptitude register in Flensburg. Monocam is so accurate that it even recognizes a British license plate and then immediately pans the camera to the other driver’s side, reports Masselink. The only restriction so far: The camera has to be significantly higher, i.e. on a bridge over a motorway, federal or country road, as Emmerich says.
Lewentz wants to make the results of the pilot project available to his colleagues at the conferences of interior ministers. The data protection officer was on board with the pilot project from the start. One result: Signs draw attention to the new controls.
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