In this age of technology, it seems that everything from the home refrigerator to the front door has been improved upon. Now, it’s traffic cameras’ turns. Merseyside, UK, in particular, is looking to serve as an example of improved road safety.
The city is replacing its standard traffic cameras with upgraded versions that are meant to monitor driver behaviour at red and yellow lights, preventing careless and distractedness more effectively.
Standard traffic camera use: a look back
The use of traffic cameras to substitute for the physical presence of the police isn’t new. CCTV has long been in practice and is considered by some a boon, others a nuisance, and more still as an extension of a mysterious and malignant Big Brother. The reality is much simpler, whether the cameras are meant to track speed or vehicle position.
When it comes to either, the positioning of the cameras is the same. At least two cameras are positioned in separate locations across an intersection. These cameras need to be at least 200m apart in order to function as designed. Once properly placed, the cameras are synchronised so that their recorded data matches up perfectly. Through this, the cameras can detect individual plate numbers and record them.
Speed cameras vs. red light cameras: the differences
When it comes to the use of the cameras, the differences begin to appear. That difference is not found within the cameras themselves though. Instead, it lies in the algorithm their data is run through. A traffic camera, for example, will not discriminate in its recording – a car’s licence plate will be recorded whether the driver was speeding, passing through a red light, or driving normally. Only once that data is transferred to the computer that the cameras rely on are fine-able behaviours distinguished from regular ones.
For example, if someone is caught speeding, the computer will determine whether or not any of the cars recorded in a set of time have been speeding and, in turn, will let a processor know that a ticket needs to be issued. If a person is caught passing through a red light, much the same process will occur but with different variables – the position of the car’s wheels in relation to a weighted crosswalk, for example.|
New and improved “smart” traffic cameras
How do the new, smart traffic cameras improve on this process? These new cameras focus in on a car’s relationship to a red light. The cameras themselves activate only when the light they’re positioned near has turned red. They’ll take a photo only when a trigger placed within the intersection’s crosswalk, is activated.
Driving in infrared
Another step up from the cameras of old includes these new cameras’ ability to process visual information that expresses itself in infrared – that is, light not visible to the human eye. This pairs with the pre-existing built-in radar that the cameras make use of.
With infrared assistance, it will be much easier for these cameras to detect unnecessary or overly-speedy movement and to, upon the data’s placement in a computer, complete the necessary mathematics to determine a car’s speed.
These high-definition cameras are also on the lookout for drivers who are on their phones while at a stop light or eating while driving. While these practices may seem harmless in theory, they have resulted in the same driver distractedness that’s plagued the city of Merseyside for some time.
The law enforcement officials behind the new camera’s integration are looking to discourage that sort of distracted behaviour and ensure that once a driver is on the road, the entirety of their attention remains where it is most needed: not on a cell phone or in a takeaway bag.
More importantly, improved versions of the original traffic cameras ensure that the local police department doesn’t have to have as many officers out on traffic patrol. The cameras can also catch dangerous driver behaviour that an on-duty officer may miss.
New cameras, old concerns
That’s not to say that some people aren’t concerned about these “Yellow Vultures”. It could be argued that cameras with the ability to see into people’s cars in such high quality are an over-extension of local government power and an invasion of personal privacy.
There is also concern that, should an algorithm miscalculate a car’s speed or otherwise misinterpret its presented data, drivers will be fined without cause. Combating a potentially inappropriate fine could be an ordeal not only for the victimised driver but for the police officials they have to work with.
Road safety first
That said, most traffic cameras, and all of the new, high-tech cameras, are being installed in what are considered to be “high risk” intersections. They’re meant to provide an additional safety measure that will ensure, if someone gets hurt, that the right people become involved and all of the facts of the event are presented without bias.
While the evolution of the technology involved may be intimidating, the integration of better quality cameras is a move towards public safety and driver security on the road.
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