Can a driver be penalised if a passenger uses a mobile phone?
We've had some NRMA Members contact us to ask about a story which emerged over the weekend about a Sydney driver getting fined $337 dollars because her passenger was on FaceTime. The offence on the fine was listed as 'Drive vehicle with TV/VDU image likely to distract'. This offence is covered by Road Rule 299 (1)(a), which states that:
"A driver must not drive a vehicle that has a television receiver or visual display unit in or on the vehicle operating while the vehicle is moving, or is stationary but not parked, if any part of the image on the screen:
(a) is visible to the driver from the normal driving position, or
(b) is likely to distract another driver."
This regulation makes it an offence for the phone’s “visual display” to be “visible to the driver”. This means it is an offence to merely have your phone sitting next to you if its screen is turned on. The regulation is written so broadly, that it even captures circumstances where your phone is locked, but happens to light up if the phone receives a notification. As long as the phone’s visual display is visible to the driver – you are offending regulation 299. Evidently, this gives police wide discretion - including where a passenger's mobile phone visual display is visible to the driver.
Exceptions are provided under 299(2) if the visual display is being used to aid the driver and is “secured to a mounting affixed to the vehicle” but generally, if your phone is not affixed to a mounting device, and is just sitting on the seat next to you – you could be offending this regulation even if you do not touch the phone.
The penalty to the driver is $337 and 3 demerit points. If it’s in a school zone then it’s $448 and 4 demerits.
Distracted driving and mobile phones
With a large number of mobile phone owners in Australia – 19 million in 2016 with the figure set to rise to 20 million by 20191 – and the high-speed addition of new in-vehicle communication systems, distracted driving is fast becoming a severe and growing threat to road safety.
Using a mobile phone while driving increases your risk of a crash four-fold. Using a mobile phone while driving is dangerous because it may lead to:
- Slower reaction times
- Wandering out of your lane
- Slower and less controlled braking
- Riskier decision making
Demerit point increase
From 17 September 2018, drivers who use a mobile phone illegally will be penalised an extra demerit point, up from four to five. During double demerit periods, drivers who break the rules will be penalised 10 demerit points.