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Can You Use a Phone While Driving? (NSW)

The New South Wales government recently passed a suite of reforms to the NSW Road Transport Act. The changes are designed to make roads safer and to keep traffic laws up to date with social changes and new technology. As part of the reforms, the state government has announced that it will be implementing the use of camera technology to detect people who use a phone while driving, as well as roadside drug testing for cocaine use.

The changes increase penalties for offences involving the use of phones while driving and for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol. The use of a phone in contravention of the NSW Road Rules will now result in the accrual of five demerit points (up from four points prior to the reforms) and a fine of up to $2200. The reforms also increase penalties for driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and for driving with drugs present in the driver’s system.

When can you use a phone while driving?

Learners, P1 and P2 drivers and motorcyclists

If you are on a Learner’s Permit, are a P1 or P2 driver or are a motorcyclist you are never allowed to use a phone while driving (Road Rule 300).

Full license drivers

If you are a fully licensed driver, you are allowed to use a phone while driving in the following circumstances:

  • To answer or make a call;
  • To play audio material;
  • As a driver’s aid (eg. navigation)

However, these uses are permitted only if the phone:

  • Is secured to the vehicle and does not obscure the driver’s view of the road; or
  • Can be operated without the driver pressing anything on the phone or manipulating any part of the phone (such as by voice activation).

A person is not allowed to use a phone while driving to send text messages, for emailing, to use social media or to take photos while driving. The penalty for using a phone contrary to the Road Rules is a fine of a maximum of 20 penalty units (currently $2200). The driver also faces five demerit points for an offence.

Offences involving the use of a phone while driving are included in double demerit periods, meaning drivers face harsher penalties for breaking these Road Rules during relevant holiday periods, such as at Easter, Christmas and Australia Day.

What are the changes to the laws about phone use?

NSW drivers now face five demerit points instead of four for mobile phone use while driving, making New South Wales the strictest jurisdiction in Australia when it comes to phone use on the roads.

The use of camera technology to catch drivers using their phones in breach of the road rules is reportedly a ‘world first’, with other jurisdictions having considered such a move but with New South Wales being the first state to legislate for camera-based enforcement of phone use laws. The technology means that drivers will be able to be caught and issued with a fine for using their phone while driving without even being aware their behaviour had been detected. The stationary cameras will automatically issue infringements.

What are the changes to the laws about DUI?

Under the new laws, penalties for driving under the influence of alcohol or another drug are increased. The maximum penalty for a first offence of driving under the influence of alcohol or another drug is now a fine of 30 penalty units (currently $3300) or imprisonment for 18 months, or both. In the case of a second or subsequent offence, the maximum penalty is a fine of 50 penalty units (currently $5500) or imprisonment for two years, or both (Section 112).

The new laws also extend the roadside drug testing scheme to include testing for cocaine.

The new laws came into effect on 1 July 2018.

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