New AI device in DC detects distracted drivers – DC News Now | Washington, DC

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WASHINGTON (DC News Now) — The DC Highway Safety Office launched a pilot program Wednesday that initiated the installation of feedback signs that use artificial intelligence to detect distracted drivers.

According to city officials, if the device senses that if drivers are looking at their phone, it’ll flash a message warning them to put it down.

“The [Highway Safety Office] will launch two portable devices that will detect distracted drivers and issue immediate feedback to drivers without capturing any personal information,” a statement from the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) said.

The portable devices will be rotated around the District in areas where distracted driving is a problem, like school zones or targeted roads located on the High Injury Network.

They have been initially placed at Georgia Ave NW and Missouri Ave NW and on the corner of Benning Ave NE and 26th St NE near Anacostia Park. These two intersections that rank among the highest priority segments on the High Injury Network map. Officials say they will stay there for about a month while they collect data.

The devices were purchased using an $87,500 grant awarded to D.C. from the Governor’s Highway Safety Association and General Motors.

The installation is part of Mayor Muriel Bowser’s Vision Zero plan that was launched in 2015, and created an original goal of zero driving-related deaths by 2024, which Bowser now admits was ambitious and has faced challenges.

In 2023, traffic deaths in D.C. were up 48% from 2022. The Metropolitan Police Department’s Major Crash Unit recorded 52 fatalities for the year, the highest they had been in 16 years.

As Bowser and the DDOT ramp up their plan, they are embracing new traffic data collection technologies to better understand the statistics.

An employee in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Operations and Infrastructure told DC News Now that these two devices are part of a pilot program intended to collect data to evaluate their effectiveness and educate drivers. Unlike the District’s speeding cameras that issue tickets, these devices will not penalize drivers.

D.C. isn’t the only city to take the steps toward using AI to enforce traffic regulations. In November, Prince George’s County installed AI traffic cameras after the community voiced concerns about individuals running stop signs in school zones.

The city’s new devices are made by the Rochester, New York based company, Safer Street Solutions, which partnered with the Governor’s Highway Safety Association.

“Our novel artificial intelligence roadside collection device automatically detects unsafe behaviors with superhuman accuracy,” the company’s website said.

The automated detection has the capability to track distracted drivers, seatbelt usage in drivers and passengers, speed detection and vehicle classification.

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