780 drivers caught under new phone laws

NSW Police booked 780 drivers for illegal mobile phone use in the first 11 days of new phone rules which came into force on November 1.

Breaching the rules attracts a $298 fine and the loss of three demerit points, and this rises to $397 and four demerit points if the driver is in a school zone. Of the 780 people booked, 24 were in a school zone, police said.

The new laws state that when your vehicle is moving or stationary (but not parked) drivers may only use a mobile phone to make or receive a call or to use the audio-playing function if the phone is in a fixed mounting cradle or does not require you to touch or manipulate it in any way.

All other functions, including texting, video messaging and emailing, are prohibited. To use GPS on phones, the handset must be placed in a fixed mounting located in a spot that does not distract the driver from the road. Holding the phone is prohibited except when passing it to a passenger.

Learner and P1 drivers and riders are not permitted to use a mobile phone at all while driving.

In 2011, 46,667 motorists were booked for illegally using a phone while driving. This works out to an average of about 897 a week.

When a police spokesman was asked if the lower number of drivers booked in the first 11 days of the new laws indicated that police were not enforcing the laws as vigorously, or that drivers had smartened up, the spokesman said the number appeared small but was “likely to increase during high-visibility police operations targeting dangerous driving”.

The Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (ATMA) advised drivers to buy a cradle and install it on their dashboard, use smartphone voice-activated dialling or take advantage of automatic answering features.

The Melbourne entrepreneur Alex Kain is attempting to cash in on the new rules with a new in-car gadget featuring a detachable Android tablet that allows drivers to control all apps – including radio stations, Skype, email, text messages, Facebook and podcasts – by voice. Kain said the tablet hardware was from China but he was developing the voice control software that powers it.

ATMA cited research showing the risk of crashing or having to take action to avoid a crash increased by 23 times when a driver took their eyes off the road to write or read text messages. Looking down to dial on a handheld phone increased the risk of a crash or near-crash by 2.8 times.

Police said eight motorists had been booked for roundabout offences since the introduction of other new road rules and a further 190 have been booked for U-turn offences. Details of all the changes that came into force on November 1 can be found in the RTA's handbook.

“The safety of NSW motorists remains the number one for priority for police and officers will continue to diligently patrol the state's roads in order to catch dangerous drivers before they hurt themselves or other road users,” said Inspector Phil Brooks, from the Traffic and Highway Patrol Command.



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