AI camera placed near Lakeshore Hospital|Express photo by Nishad T
AI camera placed near Lakeshore Hospital|Express photo by Nishad T

Traffic control in Kochi, AI or nay?  

Artificial intelligence-powered cameras to curb traffic rule violations and enhance road safety are the latest talk of the town. TNIE takes a look at the project and gauges the public response

KOCHI:  The 726 cameras installed on major roads across Kerala are now live. This means that all motorists within their range are being closely monitored by a dedicated team of officers in traffic control rooms. While the government and enforcement agencies vouch for the effectiveness of these cameras in ensuring much-needed traffic discipline, their gaze has made some people uneasy. 

The cameras are focused on detecting rule violations such as motorbike riders not using helmets or overloading, car passengers not wearing seat belts, use of mobile phones while driving, and red light jumping. These cameras are part of the ‘Fully Automated Traffic Enforcement System’ of the Motor Vehicle Department (MVD), and became active on April 20. The MVD will start imposing penalties for rule violations from May 20, but the cameras have already been the talk of the town. 

Meanwhile, critics point out that strict enforcement of rules will make the project unpopular in the absence of other facilities such as better roads, proper lights, and signboards for the benefit of motorists and pedestrians. There are also grumbles over heavy fines and the exemption of penalty for VIPs.

Vitals stats
The enforcement agencies and the government have been marshalling data to assert that stricter enforcement is necessary. The number of road accident deaths alone is alarming. According to data from the Road Safety Authority, over 23,500 people died in road accidents in Kerala between 2017 and 2022, equating to 12-15 deaths per day. 

More than half of them were bike riders, and 25 per cent were pedestrians. Notably, about 70 per cent of the victims were youngsters or people in their productive age group. Furthermore, the number of registered vehicles in the state has increased from four lakh in 2007 to 1.67 crore now, leading to a higher vehicle density even as the growth of roads has not been commensurate. 

While launching the AI camera project earlier this month, Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan noted that the existing MVD/police enforcement mechanism was limited and could cause inconvenience to the public. “In order to prevent complaints of harassment and ensure rule compliance, we sought the help of technology,” he said.  

The MVD has implemented a comprehensive network of surveillance cameras to enforce traffic rules. It utilises 675 cameras, can detect motorbike riders not using helmets, car passengers not wearing seat belts, and those involved in hit-and-run cases.

In addition to detecting violations, the cameras will be used to issue penalties as well. There are 25 cameras exclusively used to spot illegal parking, 18 units to cover signal jumping, and eight to track speeding. Transport Minister Antony Raju seems to be happy with the project. Compliance has already increased even though penalties have not yet been issued, he notes. 

One offence, multiple fines
Transport Commissioner S Sreejith maintains that the surveillance mechanism is not designed to collect more fines. “The cameras are meant for enforcing traffic rules and enhancing road safety,” he says. 
Sreejith, however, adds that there will be separate fines for camera detection even if the offence is the same. “So a motorcycle rider who is not wearing a helmet will have to pay multiple fines based on the offence detected by various cameras on the road,” he says. 

“It is an offence if more than two people travel in two-wheelers, even if the third person is a child. There shall be no exemption given to pregnant women if they are not wearing seat belts while in a moving car. Also, babies should be with people in the back seat of the car.”

Sreejith also sets aside concerns about the cameras breaching the privacy of motorists. He explains the AI cameras only record what a person can record from a mobile phone.  “The AI cameras capture only the photograph of the front seat. They do not record videos. Besides, the cameras take pictures only when an offence is detected,” he says.

Rule violators will receive a notification of the penalty by text message on their registered mobile number within six hours of detection, followed by a challan by post the next day. Control rooms will be established in all districts to manage the system.

The AI cameraproject, which received Rs 232 crore from the Road Safety Authority, has been implemented through Keltron. The agency, officials say, will be responsible for the maintenance of the camera units for five years. 

Although the cameras were installed at the beginning of 2022, they could not be commissioned due to technical issues. Currently, even before the cameras have begun enforcement duties, critics have raised allegations of inflated costs and financial discrepancies.

Pros

  • Traffic enforcement without stopping vehicles
  • Better compliance, reduction in accidents, accident deaths
  • Data sharing with the police, excise, MVD, GST
  • Revenue generation for MVD through fines
    (Proportionate increase in funds for road safety projects)
  • Provision for proper maintenance of cameras (poor maintenance of cameras a perennial problem)

Limitations

  • A small family with kid cannot travel in a two-wheeler (overloading fine applicable)
  • Lack of awareness leads to complaints of excessive fines
  • Concerns over privacy
  • Lack of supporting road infrastructure to ensure compliance with rules
  • MVD not planning to enforce lane driving rules, unnecessary use of bright lights, excessive blaring of horn for now
  • Facilities for checking overspeeding are limited (cam-detecting apps help dodge the cameras)
  • Need to see if KSRTC pays the fines, though no exemption is given
  • Procedure for blacklisting vehicles is complicated and can be challenged in courts
  • Public unhappy about the exemption given to beacon vehicles

Other details

  • Cameras run (except the ones fixed on cars) on solar energy
  • Data shared from cameras to control room using SIM card with 4G connectivity
  • Cameras can capture visuals 200m away
  • Works even at night and in difficult weather conditions
  • Visuals are sent to the main control room, then to the district control rooms which issue notice to the vehicle owner
  • Violators to get a notification of penalty by text message, followed by a challan by post
  • Cases registered using e-challan and refer it to virtual courts
  • Project cost: Rs 232 crore

Accident stats

  • People died in accidents (2017 to 2022): 23512
  • 12-15 deaths in a day, 70% are youngsters
  • Except for Covid lockdown years, average deaths were around 4,000 (4,230 in 2022)
  • Poor road safety, rash and negligent driving, poor driving skills
     

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