Manchester's streets to be patrolled by CCTV cars that film you picking your nose at the wheel and then send you a fine

Pete sez, "Seems that Manchester police in the UK have decided to deploy CCTV camera cars (in Smart cars) to keep a better eye on motorists at junctions etc. This is getting so completely crazy it's not true. I'm rereading Little Brother at the moment, and in the 9 months or so since I read it the first time I can't believe how much more realistic it's become."

We've got these all over London -- I like to chase them through the streets with my camera.

Anyone seen driving while distracted - eating at the wheel, playing with the radio or applying make-up for instance - is filmed by the cameras.

Later, a letter is sent to the owner of the car, in many cases along with a fine.

Anyone caught using their mobile will be asked to pay £60 and have three points added to their licence. Fines could also be handed out to anyone who is thought to be driving without due care and attention, or similar offences.

CCTV cars snap distracted drivers (Thanks, Pete!)


  1. One of these has been parked about 50 yards from my Manchester flat on and off for the last few months. I though it was a bus lane camera as it’s only there at rush hour. I shall make a point of photographing it back and working out exactly when it’s there.

  2. @ 1

    not for the front windows or windscreen but the law is vague and it depends from county to county if the officer involved is a complete twat or not!

  3. I’m not forgetting the serious infringement on one’s freedom and right to privacy that comes with the introduction of the CCTV cars, but I am sure we will see a lot more of these creative sources of revenue with the growing global economic crisis.

  4. I actually don’t have a huge problem with this in principle. Driving while on the phone is dangerous, and I’d rather that people get caught before their inattention causes them to drive into me.

    My attitude here is pretty much the same as with speed cameras: they’re not a stealth tax or alternate revenue stream. If you don’t want to get caught breaking the law, try not breaking it; it really is that simple. Driving at the speed limit and/or without a phone in your hand aren’t difficult tricks to master.

  5. Window tinting is illegal?? Wow.

    I loved the UK when I travelled there a couple years back, but it seems like Labour are trying to rebrand themselves as Norsefire…

    Mind you, my government wants to filter the whole interwebs, so I won’t cast any stones…

  6. anyone who is thought to be driving without due care and attention, or similar offences (sic).

    Wow, just thought?

  7. Do they really have to put a CCTV?

    Whatever happened to the patrolling officer that hands out a ticket on the spot? If I’m caught red handed I’ll certainly think twice about doing it again. Getting a letter with a fine one week late can spark lots of really negative thoughts, just the opposite of what they’re trying to do.

  8. The “Smart cars” are parked at junctions to take the photos. Would they be taking photos of people changing the radio station while they’re stopped at a red light, or would they be taking photos of people zooming by at 60 mph. Could you get a good clear pix of the driver *AND* the license plate when the car is passing by at 60 mph?

    If while stopped at a traffic light, you lift both hands from the steering wheel for a few seconds to straighten your glasses, and the camera snapped a photo of you then, does the photo indicate whether your car is moving or if it is stationary?

  9. @Adonai: Come to the UK, our gov’t’s already got the whole filtering thing down.

    @Bugs: Here’s how it works, so you’ll maybe see what the problem is here:

    The claimed purpose of these systems is to reduce risk to the public of being negatively affected by illegal behaviour.

    People are given jobs to drive the car, take the photos, examine the photos, and decide which ones to send fines out to.

    These fines are (like speeding and parking tickets) contestable in court, so are sent out without any serious vetting of the evidence beyond these people looking at the photos and deciding “we can get the address for that driver: if they have a problem with the fine, they can take it to court.”

    Typically, these people are *not* put on a quota system, per se. However, they are made well aware that unless N fines are sent out each day, the system will be unable to recoup the wages for the drivers, data processors, managers, etc, and the project will be closed down and they’ll lose their jobs. Even though there’s no performance related pay, managers are frowned at if their department doesn’t hit targets.

    The easiest way to accomplish that is to shotgun it: everyone who might be committing a crime, send them a fine. They can contest it in court, after all. That one with their hand up by their face: picking their nose, or using a phone? They can contest it, but sending out a fine is cheap, so they get the fine.

    The nose-picker is then dumped with a fine. To contest this, they need to enlist the services of a lawyer, and take time off work, which they may not be able to do (the courts don’t care about deadlines and crunch time): it may be worth more than the fine to take a day out at critical deadline times.

    So there are a large number of “false positives”. What is the “right” level of false positives? Zero is infeasible. But beyond a certain point, the cost to the public in dealing with the false positives outweighs the cost to the public of the crimes avoided. that’s true whether you count the cost in terms of quality of life, or money, or however you care to count it.

  10. #5-window tinting is illegal in a lot of places, as some jurisdictions feel it can reduce driver’s vision excessively and be a safety hazard.
    Our local cops just did a “driving distracted” campaign similar to this, but more elaborate. Unmarked cars would drive around observing people on the highway not paying attention, then call in the marked car around the corner to pull over the vehicle. They caught a lot of people. They also linked up with local media in advance, so the police were broadcasting their most appalling catches for all to hear (“we just got a guy texting, while eating a bowl of cereal, with an open newspaper spread out over his steering wheel…”). Entertaining and sobering.

  11. As I was almost hit yesterday by a driver who was so busy brushing her hair AND talking on her cell (don’t worry – she gave me the middle finger and drove off against the light) part of me thinks its about time something was done about careless drivers.

    But I get chills from the “anyone who is thought to be” – because who is making these decisions? I suppose the camera itself is no different then getting caught by a cop whilst driving distracted, but that it looks to be left open to the reviewers interpretation of the situation seems to be begging for abuse.

  12. Why doesn’t Jacky The Jackass just stand up, scream “TINPOT DICTATORSHIP MODE” and be done with it?

    This shit, I’d say it’s insane, but that should go without saying!

    I propose a new law of reality, applicable only in Great Brittain- if any way can be imagined to spy on anyone, no matter how mundane the situation, it will be concieved, and used. Abusively, and without any checks or balances. The populous will not be informed of misuse. The concept of privacy is not dismissed at all- it is fundamentally re-thought as “time spent doing things noone should watch”, like going to the toilet or having sex indoors. Everything else is legally divided into “public view”. The idea of reasonable privacy is branded as foreign philosophy, and is linked to terrorism in some way, so it is publicly shunned, even speaking about it.

    There. That oughta cover everything.

  13. OMFG teh UK is teh suck.

    Every time I read these posts I can’t avoid thinking “1984” and “V for Vendetta”. It worries me badly.

  14. I had the same thought when I read “Little Brother”.

    When I see the rampant casual use of Tasers and laws in the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK being passed almost daily allowing more government secrecy and less public privacy along with curtailing of basic freedoms like photography it really seems like things are going downhill even faster than the fiction writers can imagine.

    Even Obama who ran on a platform of transparency seems to be getting sucked deeply by the corrupting temptation of government secrecy and distrust of the public.

  15. yeah, those camera mounted cars creep me out, but how much “privacy” are you meant to have behind the wheel?

  16. I’m thinking about it from the other side, wondering why police departments all over Europe and America are so eager to implement this tech, and I see it as a money issue. More violations = more revenue.

    So one solution may be: mandate that PDs implementing CCTV surveillance don’t receive the extra revenues themselves. Rather, transfer the money to a different government branch. It’s typically an automated payment system, so it would be pretty easy to filter the CCTV receipts from the cops-on-the-beat receipts. The PDs incentive to implement the tech is removed, and I bet they’re not so eager to roll it out anymore when all a CCTV blanket means for them is more time spent following up on irrelevant infractions.

  17. Unfortunately history will show George Orwell to have been an optimist.

    I can’t F*#&#NG believe that there are actually people who think this sort of big brother bullshit is good for them, and not just a means of raising more revenue from the sheeple they keep while making sure they kowtow the line.

    Bugs- its people like you who enable tyrannical police states.

    One day, surely, those cameras will catch someone with a cardboard cutout movie poster with a cardboard gun- then someone’s door will get kicked and and they will be held for weeks while its sorted out…. maybe their kids will be taken away for long enough the state refuses to give them back. One day they will catch someone with the same evil photochemistry bottles they display in their scare posters- a terruhrist for certain to be carted off to the dock – 40 days to life. Its truly a shame that Brits have allowed themselves to be disarmed, now all that’s left is to watch the trainwreck in slow motion.

  18. In the US, often these systems are sold to municipalities as a win/win way of making money from the fines. The revenues are split between the fining agency and the company who provides the CCTV equipment. The losers are the people who are caught on tape while doing something not necessarily illegal, but are fined anyway and have to take time and effort to contest it. IMHO, the companies selling the systems should have nothing to do with the revenue stream thus generated.

  19. “that Brits have allowed themselves to be disarmed,”
    : if you mean guns, that just isn’t so. There are plenty of guns in Britain, legal and illegal. If you mean stripped of their civil rights by permitting evil precedents in law and practice without putting up a fight – yeah, it’s shameful.

  20. What privacy would one ever expect while driving an automobile? I can’t imagine where a right to privacy in a car exists. If you’re sitting behind an expanse of glass you can’t possibly expect even the tiniest bit of privacy.

    Cars are like guns. They kill people. I actually think we should all have the right to shoot at people we see eating or doing makeup on the highway. They are a very clear threat to everyone in the vicinity. So photographing these tree-swinging morons is the very kindest of treatment I think they should expect.

    On this one, the totalitarians ruling Great Britain (or England, if you will) are being reasonable.

  21. how will you feel when your ticket for “hand off steering wheel” arrives with a photo of you picking your nose at a light?

  22. I will bet that no one will receive a ticket for picking a nose. Hand off steering wheel may not qualify as an infraction in England. I don’t know. But I would certainly enjoy testing the system with some endurance picking. I can go a long way on one good nose pick let me tell you. In fact, I think I would almost be willing to pay for the privilege.

    1. Alessandro,

      We Californians do not enjoy the plethora of fussy driving rules that plague the UK. For us, not getting into a crash during the driving test means that you’ll probably get your license. In the UK, you won’t pass the test if you fail to look in your rear view mirror every ten seconds. Don’t get me wrong: I would love it if the driving test here were more stringent. My point is that Brits can get fined for myriad minor infractions that we don’t even have names for here in the driving capital of the world. When you have surveillance combined with Byzantine rules combined with a desperate need to generate revenue, it starts to look less like a concern for public safety and more like another step toward totalitarianism.

  23. That’s absolutely insane. I’m pissy enough about the several red light cameras in my area, I’d be absolutely livid about the idea of the police setting up mobile civilian surveillance vehicles. The brittons certianly learned one thing from WWII, and it’s that appeasement works beautifully.

  24. That’s what x-ray glasses are for. That’s next. X-ray cars that see through your door. They’ll know if you’re doing something naughty in the driver’s seat.

    By the way, I just finished re-reading Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and it struck me how badly it ends for poor Winston, but he does die happy. Unfortunately, he’s a bit of a dimwit throughout the entire novel and therefore rather difficult to side with. O’Brien is much more likable in his intellectually barbaric way.

    But I think the great achievement of Orwell in his book lies not in his ability to show the repressive state in such convincing detail, or the futility of escaping it, but it’s in his ability to show how happy that state wants one to be. How kind the state thinks it’s being in the long run. It’s that happiness and ease of mind that goes along with all the surveillance and repression that is so fascinating in Orwell.

  25. Antinous, interesting comments about differences in British driving rules. I do in fact wholeheartedly agree that the UK has gone sliding into totalitarianism. I am totally fascinated by the whole democratic slippage that occurred during the Bush and Blair administrations. It’s beyond belief.

    I made a film about the rise of fascism and totalitarianism. I’d put a link here but I don’t think you guys like that kind of thing in comments.

    Anyway, I agree that the UK is in a deep slide toward nightmare. Cops are beating innocent people at demonstrations. One died after being mugged by a british officer last week.

    But I’ve also seen a pickup truck go airborne and roll down the highway at 75 mph because someone was eating at the wheel of another car.

  26. I think it is becoming imperative that a good, cheap design for an effective EMP cannon be published. Something that fits in a panel van, can be swiftly mounted/demounted, carries a sizable charge and has at least ten meter range with power to fry vehicle electronics (and camera circuits). I suppose a thin plastic mock-up back door to fire through…

  27. By the way, why is that the Brits don’t organize a day of nationwide CCTV camera destruction? Thousands of people wearing masks and carrying crowbars and ladders rush out into their neighborhoods and bash all the CCTV cameras they see into scrap metal. Why not? What fun it would be and how just it would be. Total nationwide British CCTV SMASH DAY.

  28. Takuan, I’ll go over and see if that would be appropriate. Good idea. I’m not sure I’ll actually do it, but I’ll check.

  29. Really, how long is it going to be before cameras will be made for peering into houses, penultimately installed inside every house, and finally at last a camera triumphantly placed in each room of every house. But that won’t really do. No, eventually there will need to be a small electronic platform with a camera and a GPS that follows you everywhere. You will be required to have one, if not by law, then by social convention. The real trick will be to get you to keep it out of your pants pocket so the camera can see. If it is made to be a status symbol, then the user will want to pull it out to be seen using it more often. I’m sure most people will be too smart to fall for this should it ever happen though. Heh heh…

  30. No question people will get stiffed by this. I know someone who got fined & points for using a phone while stationary with the handbrake on.

  31. If they actually cared about drivers posing a threat, then they’d be looking for cars straying across lane dividers, tailgating, stopping halfway into crosswalks, and cutting off other drivers. Not for behind-the-wheel behaviors that are SUPPOSEDLY linked to actual danger. Those same studies that linked cell phones to accidents (and led to selling useless headsets as a ‘solution’) also showed that some people are able to manage their attention while driving, and some are not. There are drivers out there perfectly capable of holding a cellphone conversation while paying attention to their surroundings, and then there are idiots who can’t see a pedestrian in a crosswalk while staring straight ahead with hands at two and ten. Sleep deprivation, aggression, and alcohol are bigger road hazards than distraction anyway, but they don’t come with convenient visual cues. Stupid driving would be better corrected with immediate feedback such as Hypnoid recounts – a siren, a quick scare, and a lecture. A bill in the mail weeks later does nothing to stop the behavior, but does a great job of angering the citizen.

    Blanket-penalizing everybody for what they do inside the car, whether or not it affects the outside of the car, is just another way to raise revenue by criminalizing behavior. They might as well issue preemptive tickets to anybody with a cupholder.

  32. no law against wearing a jacket with extra dummy arms attached. Just the existence of such creates the possibility you were wearing it at the wheel that day. Also, if you wear a mask while driving, how can they issue you a ticket without proof you were the driver?

  33. To address this point: “I can’t imagine where a right to privacy in a car exists. If you’re sitting behind an expanse of glass you can’t possibly expect even the tiniest bit of privacy.”

    The same is true of the windows in your home that face the street. Would you be okay if we put a camera in front of every house? Technically, you should never expect privacy leaving or entering your house, nor should you expect privacy from anything viewable with your window open. They are all publically viewable.

    However, it’s a bit different when you are being surveilled by a camera. It means that trends about you can be established. It means that any little slip-up can be punished. More importantly, it means that if you start acting in ways deemed suspicious – keeping your blinds closed (why do that if you have nothing to hide?) – or – leaving the house at the same time as people who are planning a revolution – you can be found out, and gleefully punished for thinking you could get away with it.

    This stuff is sick. Brits, you can’t let them get away with it.

  34. Wait, they’re only just introducing this? Then what were the Smart cars with cameras atop them doing when I first saw them over a year ago?

    Yes, these are far from a new phenomenon to anyone that’s travelled down the same main road into the city centre that I use.

  35. #19: Who elects these people? Voters. All of us (if you vote). You, me, him, her, it doesn’t matter. We vote them in based on our personal prejudices, or the fact that their lies sound more appealing than the other guy’s. They are all the same; when they are allowed power, they abuse it, then we act surprised.

    Depressing, isn’t it?

  36. The CCTV placement is getting so crazy, I’m starting to feel like I’ll wake up, and it’ll all just be just a bad dream.

  37. hmmm… I have mixed feelings about this. My PhD is on driving (specifically in the elderly and those with dementia) so I have read a huge amount of the driving research literature. I know that distractions while driving are a very bad thing. Most people do not realise how complex the task of driving is, and while it is appropriate to be on autopilot a lot of the time, it is the unexpected situations and people’s slow reactions that cause crashes. Raising awareness of the importance of reducing distractions while driving is VERY important. Fining people may raise this awareness – it will most likely do more than public awareness campaigns.

  38. You folks can’t genuinely be trying to equate your privacy rights in your car and your home.
    Newsflash- if your car’s in a public place, it’s the same as your person- it can’t be searched without reasonable suspicion, but it can be photographed by anyone for any reason.


  39. @Jay Radical, #8: ”

    anyone who is thought to be driving without due care and attention, or similar offences (sic).

    Wow, just thought?

    Naturally; they’re not guilty purely because a cop says so (yet.) If you think about it, that’s the way it works with everything else. A cop who nicks Burglar Bill in a stripy jumper & domino mask, carrying a sack marked “SWAG”, tip-towing away from a broken jeweller’s shop window, makes the arrest because the arrestee is “thought to be” reasonably likely to be the perp.

    Where that all falls down, of course, is that the cops here have plenty of “reasonable suspicion” grounds to stop and search, question, corral and assault peaceful demonstrators and random passers-by. Because these actions are only rarely the precursor to an attempted prosecution, the cop’s decision-making process is never examined or questioned in court. Because the cop can almost always make some sort of claim to have has “reasonable suspicion” that the man with his hands in his pockets strolling in front of them is actually a wild-eyed anarchist intent on breaking the windows of banks, such actions rarely result in the socio-legal cluestick being applied to the cops in the form of financial damages / compensation payments or even criminal prosecution. (It does happen, and much more often than it used to when I was a kid, when the word of the police was pretty much assumed to be unquestioned truth. As with the death of Ian Tomlinson, ubiquitous personal video/camera phones is helping redress the balance, a little, at last. Oh, and irony of ironies:

    The man who shot the footage, a fund manager from New York who was in London on business, said: “The primary reason for me coming forward is that it was clear the family were not getting any answers.”

  40. @ “Why do we vote for these people”, etc.

    I’m pretty certain that nobody went into the polls on a ticket of pointing various cameras at us in random locations and then fining us. I suspect that, instead, they waffled on about other stuff and then did whatever they wanted once we elected them. Politicians do that.

    Plus, more to the point, hardly any (no?) police posts in the UK are elected, anyway.

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