New Mobile Phone Cameras Rake In $7 Million In One Month

by Sonia Hickey

Controversial high-tech mobile phones ‘hidden’ on New South Wales roads have pulled in $7 million worth of fines in their month of operation.

The cameras were introduced in December last year, and drivers were given a three-month grace period with no fines issued.

In March, when the cameras finally became officially operational, 12,991 fines were issued for mobile offences totalling $7,429,451. More than 90 per cent of the fines were from the cameras, with the remainder being police-issued.

While the figures for fines in April sit at about 9000, it’s not entirely clear how these mobile phone traffic offences were issued.

That said, it should be noted that April includes the government mandated ‘stay at home’ period when New South Wales residents were only given a list of 16 acceptable reasons to be outside their homes.

During strict COVID-19 travel bans over the Easter long weekend at the start of April, police announced they would be using the technology, which has high definition cameras for number plate and driver recognition, to catch anyone out and about without a ‘reasonable’ excuse.

About 1000 fines for breaches of the new public health act have been issued since the lockdowns went into effect at the end of March – and given that the new laws – rushed through Parliament before it was officially shut by Premier Gladys Berejiklian until August – were haphazard and poorly explained, the Police Commissioner Mick Fuller personally reviewed all of them in the wake of public outcry that police were issuing them without consistency, or in some cases, common sense.

As a result, Mr Fuller has annulled 32 of the fines. But many people will still be lining up at court when it resumes in the coming weeks, to have fines challenged.

No warning signs

As far as the high tech mobile cameras go – they were originally introduced into New South Wales in 2018, after two police officers were injured when a van crashed into an RBT site. As a result of the collision, one officer had his foot and part of his lower leg amputated and another suffered a broken leg.

The driver of the van, who walked away unharmed, admitted he was looking at his phone at the time.

The cameras which have been installed in various locations are said to be able to detect drivers clearly from up to 100 metres away when a car is travelling at high speeds, or 1 kilometres when a car is stationary, as well as in inclement weather. They can be fixed, and also mobile.

Unlike speed cameras, these cameras don’t have warning signs and despite calls from various sections of the community to implement these, including the opposition,  New South Wales transport minister, Andrew Constance has ruled it out.

Distraction is a leading cause of car accidents

The penalty for offending drivers is five demerit points and a $344 fine, or $457 in a school zone.

The laws are specific and tough. In New South Wales:

Drivers 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.

Learner, P1 and P2 licence holders are not permitted to use a mobile phone at all.

Drivers can also be fined if a passenger has a screen within their view. That could be considered a distraction. This little-known road rule can cost three demerit points and a fined of $337.

Distraction is said to be one of the leading causes of fatal road crashes in Australia. The Mobile Phone Detection Camera Program is a key initiative to achieve the Government’s target of reducing road fatalities and serious injuries by 30 per cent by 2021.

Modelling by Monash University Accident Research Centre suggests the program will contribute to a reduction in road trauma of approximately 100 fatal and serious injury crashes over a five-year period.

Author

Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice, and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team.

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