Roof top cameras on Smart Enforcement Vehicles are used by Manchester Police to detect drivers using mobile phones and breaking other road rules.

BIG Brother style police cars fitted with rooftop telescopic cameras that can see into drivers’ car from up to 100 metres away could soon be brought to Victoria, if the state’s Road Safety Camera Commissioner has his way.

In an annual report tabled in the State Parliament on Tuesday, Victoria Road Safety Camera Commissioner Gordon Lewis called for a full evaluation of UK smart cars with a view to introducing them in Victoria.

The Smart Enforcement Vehicles used by Manchester Police in the UK allow each operator to rotate the camera 360 degrees and zoom in on drivers to detect those engaging in risky and illegal behaviour.

The cameras can see into cars and capture drivers looking at their phones or eating at the wheel.

“The vehicles are used for the mobile detection of a range of offences and target driver inattention, including the use of mobile phones, driver and passenger safety, and associated road safety issues,” Mr Lewis told

“The vehicles are relatively small, the driver inside has a joystick to operate a camera with telescopic access that can view into vehicles about 100m away to see what the driver is doing.

“Driver distraction is the new menace of the 21st century.”

Mr Lewis said “texting and the use of mobile phones on Victorian roads” was rampant.

“I imagine it would be the same in other states like New South Wales,” he said.

“It’s a plague and it’s fairly hard to detect.

“But the smart cars are a way to nab people who aren’t wearing a seat belt or who are using their phones or being distracted by something else … it’s a deterrent.”

Recent research by the Transport Accident Commission revealed 56 per cent of survey respondents used their phones while driving.

Mr Lewis said he wasn’t calling for the immediate introduction of the smart cars to Victoria but wanted the government to evaluate their effectiveness.

According to Manchester Police, the number of fines issued to drivers for using their phones on the road had more than doubled since the smart cars started operation in the city in 2009, which Mr Lewis said was evidence they were working.

“The vehicle themselves are fairly obvious. I asked one of the operators ‘don’t you stand out like a sore toe? She said that was the point. People are so preoccupied with what they are doing, they don’t see you,” he said.

Mr Lewis said the benefits of introducing the smart cars — if they are proven to reduce drivers’ mobile use — far outweighed any privacy concerns.

“Privacy is easily addressed,” he said.

“You can legislate to see into a motor vehicle and I think the consideration for safety, not only the driver of that vehicle, would override any need for privacy.

“They’re an effective and cheap deterrent — I’ve been told each car would cost about $25,000 to $35,000 for the whole lock, stock and barrel.”

Victoria Police Minister Wade Noonan did not respond to questions from on Wednesday regarding the government’s response to the recommendations.

A Victoria Police spokeswoman said no one was available to comment on the matter but “Victoria Police is always on the lookout for emerging technologies that can deliver positive road safety outcomes”.

Australia Privacy Foundation vice chair David Vaile said a “full and open” privacy and risk management assessment” would need to take place before the smart cars were introduced in Australia.

“The proper process would be to have a full and open privacy and risk management assessment to assess the benefits and justifications, the likely effectiveness, potential impact on confidentiality, security, and other sets of values, ” Mr Vaile said.

“The questions that would need to be asked include; has there been an impact assessment and a risk management assessment that considers the potential for the data and images collected for this purpose to be used for other purposes such as being fed into a national database, and subject to things like face recognition, or used for trivial purposes like looking into houses?

“Until that’s out in the domain, it’s impossible for people to form a view of appropriateness, safety and likely benefits.”


By Adam