Alex Constantine - November 2, 2010
Even the most law-abiding driver might feel a shiver down the spine when spotting this speed camera at the roadside.
For as well as detecting speeding, it is packed with gizmos that check number plates to make sure insurance and tax are up to date.
It also measures the distance between vehicles to spot tailgating and takes pictures of the inside of the car – to make sure you are wearing a seat belt.
The latest weapon in speed camera technology can capture footage from 150ft away.
It is the first to detect multiple offences at the same time and is connected to police computers via satellite, so that prosecutions can be started within seconds of any offence.
Development of the system, known as Asset – Advanced Safety and Driver Support for Essential Road Transport – is being funded with around £7million of European money.
More...Speed cameras to be turned back ON in Oxfordshire due to rise in motoring offences
It is undergoing testing in Finland and is expected to be deployed across Europe from 2013, with each unit costing £50,000.
Motoring organisations gave it a mixed reception. AA president Edmund King said: ‘Tailgating is more dangerous in most cases than speeding so I think most motorists would welcome it.
'But it needs to be a safety measure, not a money-making machine.’
Campaign group Speed Cameras Dot Org said the device should not become a replacement for traffic police.
A spokesman said: ‘We cautiously welcome a device that can detect several potential offences, but it remains to be seen how accurate it is and how fairly it will be used.
‘It’s a pity that the main actions that cause the most accidents, namely not paying attention to the road, misjudging distances and other drivers’ intentions, cannot be detected by a device of any sort.
‘More police patrols and better driver education are the only ways to reduce accidents.’
The Asset test project is running until December 2011 with the aim of improving traffic safety.
The ‘Big Brother’-style set-up takes various pictures before filing details back to a central database via a GPS system. The equipment automatically destroys images over a month old and those in which no traffic violation is evident.
Its testing comes at a time when the Government has cut central funding for speed cameras and reduced the road safety budget by £38million.
The Asset camera is being tested by the VTT Technical Research Centre in Finland. It is currently mounted on a trailer but it is eventually expected to be converted to fit inside police vehicles.
Matti Kutila, senior research scientist at VTT, said: ‘The main intention is to support traffic police so that drivers follow traffic rules such as wearing seat belts, keep to the speed limit and maintain sufficient distance to the vehicle in front.
‘This, of course, is beneficial for road safety.’
Britain currently has separate cameras to detect speeding, tax and insurance violations, but Asset is the first to be able to spot a number of offences.
One of the first counties in the country to switch off its speed cameras is to turn them back on again – after speeding soared.
Oxfordshire deactivated its 72 fixed and 89 mobile units on August 1 after the county council withdrew its funding to Thames Valley Safer Roads Partnership. Shortly afterwards the partnership claimed the number of drivers speeding past deactivated cameras had increased by up to 88 per cent.
Yesterday it emerged that the police and council were nearing a deal to turn all the cameras back on.