Explained | How AI-powered cameras can rein in traffic violations

The Kerala Government has operationalised AI-enabled cameras to rein in traffic rule violations and road accidents; the cameras will detect offences such as failure to wear helmets and seatbelts and instances of a hit-and-run

Updated - April 25, 2023 04:27 pm IST

Published - April 23, 2023 11:54 am IST - THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

Kerala put in place 726 artificial intelligence-enabled surveillance cameras to bolster the government’s efforts to minimise fatalities due to road accidents and check traffic rule violations. Image for representational purpose only.

Kerala put in place 726 artificial intelligence-enabled surveillance cameras to bolster the government’s efforts to minimise fatalities due to road accidents and check traffic rule violations. Image for representational purpose only. | Photo Credit: The Hindu

The story so far: Kerala Government operationalised 726 artificial intelligence (AI)-enabled cameras on April 20. The State Cabinet had accorded administrative sanction to the Fully Automated Traffic Enforcement System, implemented as part of the Motor Vehicles Department (MVD)’s Safe Kerala Project to rein in traffic rule violations and road accidents. The network will also eliminate the need to flag down vehicles for checks. The cameras were installed at a cost of ₹232 crore.

What necessitated the adoption of sophisticated technology for road safety?

Despite being one among the smallest States in the country, Kerala faces the ignominy of figuring among the worst-faring States in terms of road accidents.

According to a Ministry of Road Transport and Highways report on Road Accidents in India 2021, Kerala was ranked fifth in terms of the total number of road accidents after recording 33,296 accidents that year. The State was also second for the total number of accidents per lakh population (93.8) and fourth for the total number of road accidents per 10,000 km of roads (1581.6).

Road accidents and fatalities have also been on the rise in the State. Their respective counts increased from 27,877 and 2,979 in 2020 to 43,910 and 4,317 last year.

Statistics gathered by the Kerala Police indicate no signs of abatement in this regard. While 8,524 accidents have been reported until February, such mishaps have resulted in 740 deaths and 9,795 injuries. Two-wheeler riders have amounted to nearly half of the deaths.

The cameras have been installed on accident-prone black spots along the National and the State Highways after deliberations over three years. Thiruvananthapuram district, the capital, has the highest number of cameras – 81.

What does the surveillance network comprise? Which offences does it detect?

The installations include 675 cameras which will detect offences such as failure to wear helmets and seatbelts, and instances of a hit-and-run; 25 to spot unauthorised parking; 18 to capture visuals of vehicles jumping traffic signals; and eight to monitor over-speeding.

The AI cameras are solar-powered and have been integrated with 4G SIM cards to transmit data to the control rooms. The MVD claims the units can store up to six months of data and as many as 30000 penalty notifications can be delivered in a single day through the automated system.

Initially, the cameras will detect violations such as driving/riding without fastening seat belts/wearing helmets, use of mobile phones while driving/riding, over-speeding, unauthorised parking, and two-wheelers exceeding the permissible seating capacity of two passengers. The fines range from ₹500 to ₹2,000.

At a later stage, the department hopes to utilise the cameras to detect other offences such as lane traffic discipline violations and failure to allow pedestrians to cross roads at zebra crossing.

How has the public response been towards the initiative?

As normally seen during attempts to enforce road safety rules, the introduction of the automated system has raised a host of concerns among motorists, even while being hailed by large sections.

For one, the system is bound to create hardships for families of three or more members including children who do not own cars and regularly travel on two-wheelers. Besides, erring motorists could be penalised more than once for committing the same offence on a single day.

For instance, a motorcyclist traversing the arterial roads of Thiruvananthapuram city without wearing helmet could be spotted by at least 10 cameras installed along the route and may have to pay multiple fines for each detection.

Thirdly, the permissible speed limits have been set in accordance with an order issued by the State Government by 2014. It had fixed the maximum speed of 90 kmph on four-lane roads and 85 kmph on national highways. The stipulation does not conform with the notification that had been issued by the Ministry of Road Transport and Highways in 2018 fixing the speed limit on four-lane roads as 100 kmph.

How has the government responded to the criticism?

Fearing a public backlash, Transport Minister Antony Raju announced a one-month relief from fines for offences detected by the cameras.

Though offences will be recorded and notices issued to the violators during the period, fines would be levied only on notices issues from May 20. The decision was apparently taken to sensitise the public familiarise with the functioning of the automated system and on road safety rules.

The government also assured to raise permissible speed limits in view of the improving condition of roads in the State.

What does the Opposition allege?

Even while it welcomed the government’s decision to delay penalisation, the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) faulted the government for allegedly introducing the reform in haste without providing time for the public to familiarise themselves with its features.

Senior Congress leader Ramesh Chennithala also raised the spectre of corruption as he alleged shady dealing behind the procurement of the cameras. Accusing the government of withholding information pertaining to their purchase, he claimed the contract (for supplying the cameras) had been awarded to a private company through the State-run Kerala State Electronics Development Corporation Ltd. (Keltron).

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