Motorists are starting to get the message about illegally using a mobile phone, according to a new survey, as Queensland introduces tougher penalties from 1 February 2020.
A three-day Driver Distraction National Summit in Brisbane last July called for tougher penalties, but so far Queensland is the only state to respond, lifting the fine from $400 and three demerit points to $1000 and four points.
In November 2019, Victorian Police Commissioner Graham Ashton said the threat of losing $496 and four demerit points was not enough to stop motorists inches state.
In 2018, NSW increased penalties to $337 and five demerit points with (double demerit on public holidays). They are also trialling special cameras that can detect illegal phone use in vehicles.
Western Australian penalties are $400 and 3 points and ACT $447 and 4 points (both also have double demerit points); South Australia $308, plus $60 Victims of Crime levy, and 3 points; Tasmania $300 and 3 points; and Northern Territory $250 and 3 points.
Riders in danger
Vulnerable motorcycle and scooter riders have long called for tougher penalties for distracted drivers.
They also have a unique perspective to see inside vehicle cabins where they have witnessed drivers not only talking on their phones, but texting a message, updating their social media profiles and even taking selfies.
Yet Queensland Police video of motorists being caught red handed includes one of a scooter rider texting while waiting at the lights.
Message in survey
A new survey from Budget Direct finds checking your phone while stopped at a traffic light and changing song on playlist are the most common illegal phone uses by motorists.
In its survey of 1001 Australian motorists (including 218 Queenslanders) it found:
- Australians surveyed in 2020 (11.49%) feel less confident texting while driving, compared to 2018 (14.9%)
- Respondents aged 35-44 feel most confident behind the wheel (22.61%) compared to those aged 18-24 (10.43%)
- On average across the country, most believe that Tougher Penalties (31.97%) is the most effective way to deter drivers from texting
- However, this figure was the lowest for Queenslanders who also think this is the least effective measure (compared to increased awareness, mobile detection cameras, law enforcement and no measures).
Research shows using a mobile phone while driving can be as risky as drink driving. A driver’s response time while texting on a phone is comparable to that of a driver with a blood alcohol reading of between 0.07 and 0.10.
The increased Queensland penalties mean that some licence holders, like learners and P-Platers, could lose their licence from just one offence.
Double demerit points will still apply to all drivers for a second mobile phone offence within 12 months. This is another $1000 fine and eight points and could cost most people their licence.
Bicycle riders will also be fined $1000, but no demerit points will be issued.
While the penalties are increasing, there are no changes to the current rules for mobile phone use while driving.
Rules of use vary across state boundaries.
For example, in NSW, Victoria and South Australia the cradle must be commercially produced if you’re using a GPS app, making a call or playing music.
However in Victoria and South Australia, learner and P1 drivers can’t operate phones at all.
Learner and provisional drivers are also restricted from using phones at all while driving in the Northern Territory.
Fines around the world
Fines vary around the world from no fine in many Asian countries to thousands of dollars and licence suspensions in Canada.
New Zealand has an $80 fine which matches their low fines for speeding. Consequently 3.5% of Kiwi drivers use their phone while driving compared with about 1.5% in Australia.
Almost half (24) of American states have no hand-held phone ban. Some states only issue fines if the driver is in a school zone or committing some other traffic offence such as speeding. Arizona and Montana even allow drivers to text!
The toughest measures in the USA are in California. The state has a $US150 fine (about $A205) for the first offence and more than $US250 (about $A345) for a second violation and one point. If you’ve copped a fine, contact Attorney Patrick O’Keefe.
Canada has a distracted driving offence which attracts a $1000 fine and three demerit points. A second conviction could mean a fine of up to $2000 and a seven-day licence suspension. A third offence could mean a fine of up to $3000 and a 30-day suspension.
Fines in Europe vary from less than €50 (about $80) and one point in eastern Europe to €420 (about $A675) in the Netherlands and up to six points in the UK.