Everybody these days seems to have a mobile phone. Indeed, hard to imagine life without one! 

If you have a mobile phone and a driver’s license you should know that mobile phone detection cameras started targeting illegal mobile phone use across New South Wales from 1 December 2019. This includes fixed and transportable trailer mounted cameras. 

These cameras target illegal use of a phone while driving anywhere and at any time. The system can operate both day and night and in all weather conditions. High definition cameras will be used to capture images of drivers using mobile devices illegally. I understand that the system will use artificial intelligence to review the images and detect offending drivers. 

In the first three months warning letters will be issued. After this grace period if you are caught using a mobile device while driving, you will lose 5 demerit points and receive a $340.00 fine for the privilege. The fine is increased to $457.00 for offenders in a school zone. If you are caught using a mobile phone in a double demerits period, you will lose 10 demerit points which leaves you only 1 demerit point before your license is suspended. 

Once the grace period is over penalty notices will be issued within a week of an offence being committed. If the vehicle is not owned by you, legislation allows the registered owner of the vehicle to nominate the person responsible. 

Apparently, Transport for NSW and Revenue NSW, the agencies responsible, have strict obligations to ensure that your personal information is protected. 

So what is the law and legal mobile phone use?

You can use a mobile phone as a navigation or speed advisor app if the phone is secured in a cradle fixed to the vehicle. 

You can also use a mobile phone to make and receive phone calls only if it is secured in a cradle fixed to the vehicle. If your mobile device is in a secure cradle you can only touch the device to make or receive phone calls, for audio playing functions or for the use of a drivers aid such as navigation.

If you want to take photos, text, email or look at social media or video recordings, your vehicle must be parked out of the line of traffic. However, the ignition does not need to be turned off. You can have a mobile phone in your pocket if you are using Bluetooth to make or receive a call provided you do not touch the device. Remember the lurking cameras will detect these details. 

If you have a GPS device that is not a phone, you can use that provided the device is secured in a cradle fixed to the vehicle. The cradle must be fixed to the vehicle in such as way intended by the manufacturer and must not obscure your view of the road. 

The only time you can use wallet functions on your phone is if the vehicle is stationary and off the road. 

You should be aware that restricted license holders are not permitted to use a mobile phone while driving under any circumstances. Restricted license holders include provisional 1, provisional 2 and learner drivers. This means that restricted license holders must not handle a mobile phone, it must not be resting on any part of your body and it cannot be secured in a cradle or used for handsfree and Bluetooth purposes. 

It is illegal to hold and use a mobile phone while stationary at traffic lights or stuck in traffic.

So, as set out above, it means you cannot use a mobile phone while driving. However there is also a reported obscure rule that has resulted in a number of drivers being fined for their passenger handling a mobile device. 

This infringement was used by New South Wales Police to fine two separate drivers, because a passenger in their car was caught watching a video.

A woman was fined in South West of Sydney when her passenger was caught using the video call function in the front passenger seat. 

So be very careful.

According to Nine News the high-resolution cameras captured 20,125 cases of illegal phone use in the first 25 days of the trial which began on 7 January this year. These offences included a driver holding a phone in each hand and appearing to text on one of them while lightly holding the steering wheel with his other hand. Another image showed a driver with both hands on his smart phone held close to his face, while his passenger held onto the steering wheel. 

The apparent reason behind this legislation is that studies have shown that using hand-held or hands-free mobile phones while driving, can be a major distraction and can increase the risk of motor vehicle accidents causing property and personal injury damage and fatalities. 

You should also consider that if an accident occurs while you are using a mobile phone illegally, then your insurance company may use that as an excuse not to pay compensation, if proved. Better check your fine print.

The argument for not using a mobile phone while driving is based on the assumptions that you may not be able to manage your car properly, drive at a safe speed, respond appropriately in emergency situations, you may miss road signs or become unaware of the road conditions. Interestingly, all of these issues could also apply to adjusting your air-conditioning, changing your media, attending to your radio, listening to a podcast, playing with iTunes, locating and finding music, and so the list goes on. 

The moral of these stories is – be careful when you’re driving with all of these distractions.

The above rules also apply to riding a motor bike and when you are supervising a learner driver from the passenger seat. 

Unless you can comply with the use of the mobile phone it is suggested that temptation can be avoided by keeping your phone in your handbag or glove box. Even though some people might find this a bit extreme.

If you need any legal help or advice in relation to the loss of your license and the use of mobile phones, please do not hesitate to call us at Paton Hooke Lawyers and Conveyancers 6551 0355.

We all hope you have a happy Christmas and New Year and that it rains.

James Paton

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