What's the law? Mobile phones and driving

Using a mobile phone and driving
mobile phone use behind the wheel

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.

What are the road rules in relation to mobile phones?

NSW Legislation

Drivers or riders can use their mobile phone to make or answer a call and use the audio playing function (e.g. music) only if the phone is either:

  • In a cradle fixed to the vehicle and doesn’t obscure their view of the road;
  • Can be operated without touching any part of the phone, such as via Bluetooth or voice activation.
  • Drivers are able to use their mobile phone as a driver’s aid (e.g. GPS) only if the phone is in a cradle fixed to the vehicle and doesn’t obscure their view of the road.

While driving or riding you cannot use your mobile phone for anything else, including:

  • Texting or audio texting
  • Emailing
  • Using social media
  • Taking photos
  • Video messaging
  • Holding your phone in any way (in hand, on lap, between shoulder and ear). Drivers are only allowed to hold a phone to pass it to a passenger.

If you want to use your phone for any of these functions, your vehicle must be parked out of the line of traffic.

These functions are not permitted when your vehicle is stopped, including when waiting at traffic lights or stuck in traffic.

Learner, P1 and P2 drivers and motorcyclists (NSW)

Learner, P1 and P2 licence holders are not permitted to use a mobile phone at all while driving or riding. This includes when waiting at traffic lights or stuck in traffic. You must be parked out of the line of traffic to use your phone in any way.

ACT Legislation

In the ACT, fully licensed drivers and riders cannot use hand-held mobile phones. Like in NSW, drivers are able to make or answer a call and use the audio playing function (e.g. music) only if the phone is either:

  • In a cradle fixed to the vehicle and doesn’t obscure their view of the road;
  • Can be operated without touching any part of the phone, such as via Bluetooth or voice activation.

There are currently no additional mobile phone restrictions for young drivers in the ACT.

How the NRMA are advocating on behalf of Members to improve safety on our roads

Outdated road rules

Laws should be regularly reviewed to ensure they remain up to date with the latest technological advances. An example of this is NSW Road Rules 2014 Rule 300 (3) that states:

For the purposes of this rule, a driver does not use a phone to receive a text message, video message, email or similar communication if:

(a) the communication is received automatically by the phone, and
(b) on and after receipt, the communication itself (rather than any indication that the communication has been received) does not become automatically visible on the screen of the phone.

This sub rule is outdated as many mobile phones now provide summary information of messages rather than just an indication of receipt.

ACT Legislation and learner drivers

In addition, given the increased crash risk of young drivers, the NRMA believes that mobile phone restrictions should apply for ACT Learners and Provisional licence holders.

Road Safety Series

The NRMA has prepared a series of reports with the aim of identifying the main factors involved in road crashes and initiatives that may help to reduce the risk of loss life and injuries.

To find out more, download the first report from our Road Safety Series, Can’t Talk. Driving. here.

 

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