Getting cut off in traffic by other drivers is not only maddening, it’s dangerous and in some cases fatal. The presence of police on roads and highways can serve as a deterrent, but they can’t be everywhere at all times. Most incidents of reckless, life-endangering driving simply go unreported and unpunished.
In Israel, 273 people died in car accidents since the beginning of the year, up from 260 in all of 2015. These worrying statistics prompted Israel’s National Road Safety Authority, the Israel Police Traffic Department and the nonprofit Nativ Batuach (Safe Lane) organization to partner to create the “Guardians of the Road – Social Change on the Roads” program.
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Using an app developed especially for the project at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, approved volunteer drivers continuously photograph the road and vehicles visible through their windshield. When they see a traffic violation, they prompt the system by voice command to deliver a video report to a control center in the National Road Safety Authority for further evaluation and possible action by the police.
During a pilot run last year, some 7,500 moving violations were recorded, hundreds of which were then transferred to to police. According to National Road Safety Authority spokesperson Moriya Malka, as reported in Geektime, as of mid-August, 5,500 people had already signed up to take part in the program, and additional volunteers will be recruited in the near future. In order to participate, users must be over the age of 30 and not have committed any serious traffic violations in the past five years.
Besides making our roads safer by reporting bad drivers, one of the main advantages of the app is that the reports are anonymous. The drivers reported do not know who photographed them, so eye witnesses don’t have to fear reporting dangerous motorists. Additionally, knowing that anonymous reporters are on the roads can act as a deterrent to bad drivers.
“If we, the driving members of the public, are afraid that the driver in the lane next to us or behind us is photographing us, we will begin to think twice about commiting a traffic violation,” Mordechai Doani-Bahiri, director-general of the National Road Safety Authority, told the The Jerusalem Post. “From the moment of the project’s launch, the National Road Safety Authority’s offices have been flooded with requests from citizens, who are also tired of the situation on Israel’s roads and want to join the project and change the driving culture in Israel.”
Different from Nexar
A somewhat similar existing venture by Israeli app Nexar uses artificial intelligence to analyze road conditions and warn of hazardous events. Nexar turns the user’s smartphone into a dashboard camera. And in addition to the reports, Nexar also uses a complicated computer vision algorithm to analyze the video clip, map the hazardous road behavior, and record the license plates of the cars involved. However, Nexar idoes not interface with the local police like the Guardians of the Road venture.
Zemer Blondheim, chairman of Safe Lane, told the Jerusalem Post that the initiative enables civil society to “take a step forward and take responsibility for what is happening on the roads that belong to all of us.”