New laws came into effect on 1st November 2012 prohibiting drivers from touching, holding or having a phone on any part of the body (including the lap) unless:
- their vehicle is legally parked, or
- they are passing the phone to a passenger, or
- the phone is secured in a fixed mounting to make hands-free calls.
The changes are designed to reduce the incidence of vehicle collisions resulting from mobile phone distractions.
Studies have found that using a mobile phone while driving can increase the risk of a collision fourfold by affecting:
– reaction time
– visual search patterns
– ability to maintain speed and position on the road
– ability to judge safe gaps in the traffic
– general awareness of other road users.
The most common types of collisions are ‘running-off-the-road’ and ‘rear enders’.
The new laws have been welcomed by road safety groups such as Drive & Stay Alive and Road Sense who predict that they will reduce the incidence of road injury.
There is, however, a concern that the rules are too broad, particularly the rule about phones not touching any part of the body:-
Does this mean that a phone can’t even be in your pocket?
What about if you forget it’s there?
What’s the problem with your phone being on your lap?
Equally, why should it be an offence to use your phone once you’ve pulled over simply because you haven’t engaged the parking brake?
Perhaps imposing a fine and demerit point loss in such circumstances is too harsh…
Additionally, there is an argument that the breadth of the new rules gives police too much power to target and penalise people they don’t like, while ignoring or just warning others. In other words, to apply the rules discriminatorily.
Breaking the new law carries a $298 fine and 3 demerit point loss.
The effect of the changes is yet to be seen.