The plaintive plea to the traffic cop is the same the world over: “Sorry officer, I didn’t know I was speeding.” But drivers may soon have to come up with a better excuse. A new electronic driver’s assistant will detect road signs and warn drivers not to ignore them.

The Australian invention is part of a global effort to make drivers more aware of road signs, especially those concerned with safety. Eventually, GPS-based systems could entirely replace road signs, but until then, ideas like the new driver assistance system (DAS) developed at the National Information and Communications Technology Australia (NICTA) lab in Canberra may help.

DAS uses three cameras: one to scan the road ahead and a pair to monitor where the driver is looking. The road camera is mounted on the rear view mirror and a “gaze monitoring” pair are set on either side of the instrument panel on the dashboard.

Images from the cameras are fed to a computer system fitted behind the dash. Software on the PC detects road signs and works out where the driver is looking. The speedometer is also connected to the computer, so the system always knows how fast the car is travelling.

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