Unsafe driver detected every six minutes during UK-first trial

NH Sensor Test Vehicle in action LARGE

A new van is being used to trial technology that can detect drivers holding a mobile phone at the wheel and people failing to wear a seatbelt


The vehicle is being used in partnership with Warwickshire Police to understand levels of unsafe behaviour on the Strategic Road Network


A UK-first trial of new safety technology has recognised motorists holding mobile phones or driving without seatbelts every six minutes.


The ‘sensor test vehicle’ has been trialled in recent weeks on England’s motorways and major A-roads as part of a research project carried out alongside Warwickshire Police.


The vehicle uses AI (artificial intelligence) detection equipment, which alongside confirmatory human analysis can help ascertain whether drivers are distracted at the wheel or they – or a passenger – are failing to wear a seatbelt.


At the time of writing, a total of 122,241 vehicles have been checked on the M40 and A46 as part of the trial, over a period of 64 hours. 


This has led to 152 mobile phone detections and has identified 512 vehicle occupants without a seat belt. 


Of the 664 offences detected, it is estimated that 530 (79.81%) were committed by people between the ages of 30 and 49, while 627 (94.42%) of those caught out are male.


The findings come just a week after it was announced that the proportion of car occupants killed in crashes who were not wearing a seatbelt has reached the highest level on record.


Some 30% of people killed in cars on Britain’s roads last year were not wearing a seatbelt, according to data published by the Department for Transport (DfT). That is up from 23% during the previous 12 months and represents the highest annual percentage in records dating back to 2013, when the figure was just 19%.


National Highways launched the van alongside consultants AECOM as part of a continuing campaign to promote safe driving and reduce instances of risky behaviours on England’s busiest roads.


The update on the trial comes as National Highways launches its Platinum sponsorship of Project EDWARD for 2022.


EDWARD – which stands for ‘Every Day Without a Road Death’ – is a national platform for highlighting best practice in road safety, and is holding its yearly ‘Week of Action’ from 17 October. You can find out more about it at www.projectedward.org.


Of the sensor vehicle trial, National Highways Road Safety Team leader Jamie Hassall said:


“Safety remains our top priority and we want everyone to get to their destination safely. Sadly, the results of this trial have shown that some drivers do not feel the need to wear a seatbelt or become distracted by their phones.


“Using any phone while driving is dangerous – driving is a highly complex task requiring a person’s full attention, as any error can be catastrophic. Drivers who talk on phones, both hands-free and hand-held, are four times more likely to be in a crash resulting in injuries.


“We want to see if we can change driver behaviour and therefore improve road safety for everyone. Our advice is clear; buckle up and give the road your full attention.”


Dr Jamie Uff, Technical Director – Strategic Consultancy, Transportation at AECOM, is the lead research professional on the trial and has been managing the deployment of the sensor test vehicle.


He said:


“The data drawn from this trial has really indicated how vital it is that we have new technologies capable of detecting driving offences. The pioneering artificial intelligence is being utilised alongside confirmatory human assessment to make sure that the process is as efficient and accurate as possible.


“The data, which is being analysed solely in the UK, is allowing us to gain a huge amount of vital insight into driving habits. The trial is allowing us to differentiate between actual behaviour and reported/expected behaviour – meaning different conclusions or clarifications can be drawn.”


“It’s important to remember that every single incident of dangerous driving could potentially cause death or serious injury, and that is ultimately what we’re trying to prevent with this trial.”


Over 216 Notices of Intended Prosecution (NIPs) have been issued by Warwickshire Police as a result of these findings.


Inspector Jem Mountford of Warwickshire Police said:


“Whilst we prefer to educate drivers and passengers of cars, vans, HGVs and other vehicles first, the new van is a fantastic tool to support officers in changing driver behaviour and enforcing the legislation for those reluctant to comply.  Over 216 drivers have received Notices of Intended Prosecution and we have been shocked at what we have seen during the trial.  We have seen one driver with his phone to his ear and his other hand to his face so none on the steering wheel, and two separate drivers with no seatbelts on who were also using handheld phones.


“As well as fines, points and their job, drivers risk their own safety, the safety of passengers – often young children and the safety of everyone else using the road around them. That is not acceptable and we will continue our proactive operations to address these dangerous behaviours.”


The trial of the vehicle is still taking in place in Warwickshire throughout October. Following the end of this trial, National Highways and AECOM will analyse results fully before a decision will be taken on the vehicle’s possible future deployment on the strategic road network.









National Highways is the wholly government-owned company responsible for modernising, maintaining and operating England’s motorways and major A roads.


View our press releases online at https://nationalhighways.co.uk/press/


Real-time traffic information for England’s motorways and major A roads is available via its website (https://trafficengland.com), local and national radio travel bulletins, electronic road signs and mobile apps. Local Twitter services are also available at https://nationalhighways.co.uk/about-us/social-media-use/.


For further information please contact National Highways’ press office (24hrs) on 0844 693 1448 and select the most appropriate option below:


Option 1: National enquiries (9am to 5.30pm) & out of hours for urgent enquiries

Option 2: North West (between 9am & 5.30pm)

Option 3: Yorkshire, Humber and North East (between 9am & 5.30pm)

Option 4: West Midlands (between 9am & 5.30pm)

Option 5: East Midlands (between 9am & 5.30pm)

Option 6: East (between 9am & 5.30pm)

Option 7: South East (between 9am & 5.30pm)

Option 8: South West (between 9am & 5.30pm)




Date Issued: 17.10.22