Viral picture is not of cameras that can detect drivers on mobile phones

24 October 2022
What was claimed

There are new cameras being trialled on the M20 in Kent that are specifically to detect drivers using mobile phones.

Our verdict

The cameras in question are not enforcement cameras, or the kind that detect people on phones. They are all lane running motorway cameras that monitor flow of traffic across lanes.

A post on Facebook with 2,500 shares features a picture of roadside cameras, with the caption: “For anyone travelling along the M20 there a new bunch of cameras being trialled, nothing to do with speed, but these are specifically to detect drivers using mobile phones.” The post was shared in a local Kent group on the social media site.

But the cameras pictured are all lane running cameras, not the kind that are able to catch drivers on their mobile phones. Despite the speed camera sign in the background, they aren’t cameras that enforce speed limits either.

Full Fact asked National Highways (formerly Highways England), which is the public body in charge of managing England’s motorways and major A roads, whether there were cameras that can detect drivers using phones being trialled on the M20 in Kent.

A spokesperson for National Highways said: “The cameras featured on the Facebook post are temporary all lane running (ALR) cameras which are being used while maintenance is carried out on the permanent ALR cameras.”

“They are not enforcement cameras.” 

All lane running, or ALR, is a type of smart motorway where the full width of the road is used (including the hard shoulder) and there are emergency refuge areas dotted along the route. 

They include traditional motorway features like speed and lane closure information, but also Motorway Incident Detection and Automatic Signalling (MIDAS) systems, which can detect slow traffic and warn drivers with appropriate messages and varying speed limits.

In January 2022, then-transport secretary Grant Shapps announced that the government would pause the rollout of future ALR smart motorways until five years of safety data was available.

The cameras in the Facebook post are used to monitor the flow of traffic, and aren’t used to enforce either speed limits or the fact that it’s illegal to hold and use a mobile phone or similar hand-held device while driving (other than in specific circumstances, like calling the  emergency services). 

Cameras that use artificial intelligence to catch drivers doing things like using mobile phones or not wearing seatbelts do exist, and have been trialled in Devon and Cornwall. The particular system trialled there, called Acusensus, can also detect speeding, but is housed in a police van, unlike the cameras in the Facebook post.

Image courtesy of Alexandre Boucher

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