The NSW Government has followed their 2017 “get your hand off it!” campaign on the use of handheld phones while driving with the announcement that mobile phone detection cameras will be used across the state as of Sunday, 1 December.
If you are caught using a phone illegally while driving during December, January or February, you will receive a warning letter. If you offend after that, the penalty for illegally operating a mobile phone while driving is $344 and five demerit points.
While mobile phone detection cameras will be switched on and issuing warning letters from 1 December, NSW Police will continue to enforce illegal mobile phone use and issue infringements as part of regular operations.
So what constitutes illegal use of a phone while driving?
Using a phone in a cradle with Bluetooth or passing a phone to a passenger, as well as using a handheld phone in a drive-through service situation are all legal uses of a phone while at the wheel, but any other use of a hand-held phone is deemed illegal.
The NRMA, which played a role in pushing for the use of phone detection cameras with their Can’t Talk Driving report, says that more than 16,500 people have been caught by police illegally using their mobile phone so far this year, even without the cameras in use.
The camera program will use fixed cameras and relocatable trailer-mounted versions of the technology, which will be moved across a network of locations statewide, targeting illegal mobile phone use.
However, the secret locations of the cameras have been contentious.
NRMA spokesman Peter Khoury said while the public supported the cameras, they also wanted to know where they will be located.
“The NRMA fought for these cameras, but they must come with warning signs in the same way every other camera on our roads has,” Mr Khoury says. “These cameras must be about getting people to put down their phones, not taking away licences. We want people to change their behaviour behind the wheel – not three weeks later when they get a fine in the mail. Warning signs are a vital part of the enforcement and education mix.”
A six-month government trial of the technology run earlier this year checked 8.5 million vehicles and found more than 100,000 drivers using their phones illegally.
A government report following the trial found that people were detected using Facebook and texting. And, in one instance, a driver had their passenger steer the car while they had both hands on their phone.
Minister for Roads Andrew Constance says “unfortunately, some people haven’t received the message and think they can continue to put the safety of themselves, their passengers and the community at risk without consequence”.
“There is strong community support for more enforcement to stop illegal mobile phone use with 80 per cent of people we surveyed supporting use of the mobile phone detection cameras.”
The NRMA reports that only 2 per cent of fatal crashes are linked to handheld mobile phone use but says that the low number is likely because of a lack of data and may not reflect the actual amount of fatalities caused by mobile-phone distracted drivers.
“Mobile phone-related crashes tend to be underreported due to the difficulty of establishing evidence of illegal mobile phone use. The NRMA believes that more needs to be done to develop an effective means of understanding the role mobile phone use, both legal and illegal, plays in fatal and serious crashes.”
Minister for Regional Transport and Roads Paul Toole also spoke in support of the initiative.
“The decision to pick up your phone can have fatal consequences. It doesn’t matter whether you’re driving on a busy city motorway or on an isolated road in the bush – there’s just no excuse for using your phone illegally,” Mr Toole says.
For more information, please visit NSW Transport.