This driver was pictured with a mobile phone clamped to his ear
By RAY MASSEY
Digital speed cameras which capture drivers smoking or eating at the wheel are being introduced nationwide in a new move to hammer motorists.
Drivers will also face fines, bans and even jail for infringements such as driving without a seatbelt, using a hand-held mobile phone or overtaking across double white lines.
The hi-tech DVD cameras, which have instant playback, will also be used to provide photographic evidence against those eating sandwiches or rolling-up cigarettes at the wheel.
These are now considered serious offences under new guidelines drawn up for prosecutors.
The development will massively increase the number of fines and prosecutions against normally law-abiding drivers for relatively minor offences.
As well as being fined £60 and given three points on their licences, motorists now face two years in jail if their actions are considered to have been a factor in dangerous driving.
Virtually every police force in England, Wales and Scotland is now equipped with the new digital cameras. They were given Home Office approval in April but are quietly being rolled out nationwide.
More than 100 have been sold. The manufacturers have said their order book is full until next April.
The DVD cameras can operate as conventional speed traps. But thanks to the instant playback, they also double up to photograph motorists flouting laws other than speeding.
Set up by a police officer on sites such as motorway bridges, they constantly scan the cars and can digitally record drivers behind the wheel committing a vast array of minor traffic offences.
Crucially the new technology, called Concept, allows officers to play back the footage to locate, view and capture the offence instantly.
Photographs taken using the device show how effective it is, capturing pictures such as a man apparently steering his Renault with his bare feet and the driver of an Alfa Romeo with a mobile phone clamped to his ear.
The device is made and sold by Tele-Traffic UK whose chief executive, Jon Bond, is a former police chief superintendent in charge of speed cameras in Warwickshire.
He said: “It is the first camera to record offences other than speeding and give an instant playback.
“If the camera is being used for speed enforcement, but the police officer spots another driving offence being committed – or even thinks he saw something – he can play it back in a second. The offences are easily and quickly detectable.”
Mr Bond, whose Warwick-based company employs 20, added: “At present, officers can record an offence such as driving with a mobile phone clamped to their ear or without a seatbelt but would then have to look through perhaps two hours of tape in order to find it again.
“Concept means that those operating the camera can digitally log everything. They are linked to the team in the back office who can instantly find the offence, see the proof and send out a penalty charge notice to the car’s registeredowner.
“This will cut down massively on the amount of time police officers have to spend on paperwork and so speed up prosecutions. The days of the police having to chase after people who are infringing the law in these ways are gone. That will make the roads a safer place.”
The Concept digital DVD technology costs £17,750. But police forces who already use Tele-Traffic’s existing analogue (non-digital) system, can upgrade for a fraction of that price.
Smoking at the wheel was recently included in the Highway Code as something which courts can consider as a factor when police accuse drivers of failing to have proper control of their vehicle.
More than 300,000 drivers a day are still illegally using hand-held phones at the wheel, recent government figures revealed.
The penalties for using a handheld phone while driving, which was outlawed in 2003, were increased in February this year from a £30 fine to £60, plus three penalty points.
Under new sentencing rules, motorists using hand-held mobile phones could be jailed for two years and be disqualified if this was an aggravating factor in dangerous driving.
Those who kill while using a mobile face 14 years behind bars, under a charge of causing death by dangerous driving.
Last October, Mr Bond and his Tele-Traffic team were under fire after admitting to undercover reporters posing as customers that speed cameras were a “scam” and that setting up cameras in new areas was the equivalent of having “a blank chequebook” that would result in “bucketfuls” of cash.
Self-styled Captain Gatso of the campaign group Motorists Against Detection said: “This is yet another example of the Big Brother surveillance society where there’s no escape from the cameras.”