Mobile phones while driving: the tough new penalties in NSW

Earlier this week, stricter new rules around using mobile phones while driving came into effect in NSW, which mean that drivers in the state could lose 5 demerit points and cop a $337 fine if they’re caught using their phones behind the wheel.

The changes, effective from 17th September 2018, mean that NSW drivers stand to lose more demerit points for using their mobile phones than any other drivers in the country. When announcing the changes back in July, NSW Roads Minister, Melinda Pavey said there was major support behind tougher rules.

“We know from a recent RMS survey that 74% of the community support a crackdown to illegal phone use behind the wheel. We all see it and the community has had enough,” she said.

According to the NSW Roads and Maritime Services website, fines of up to $337 apply for fully licensed, P-plate and Learner drivers caught using a phone behind the wheel, with the penalty bumping up to $448 when caught in a school zone.

Drivers should keep in mind that even comprehensive car insurance generally won’t cover legal costs for breaching road rules, so when it comes to any fines, drivers will have to pay out of their own pockets.

When is it legal to use your mobile phone in a car?

Despite the tough new rules, there are some occasions when using a phone while behind the wheel is still ok.

According to the NSW Centre for Road Safety, fully licensed drivers can use their mobile phone to make or answer a call or play music, as long as the phone is either:

  • In a hands-free cradle fixed to the vehicle in a way that doesn’t obstruct your vision, or
  • Operated in a way that means you don’t have to touch it, for example, through bluetooth or voice commands

A phone can also be used for navigation, as long as it’s in a fixed cradle and doesn’t block your view of the road. The only time outside this when drivers can touch their phone, is to hand it to a passenger.

When is it illegal to use your phone while driving?

But there’s a much longer list of when it is illegal to use your mobile phone while driving or in a car. Drivers can’t use their phone to:

  • Text, either using a keypad or voice texting
  • Email
  • Use social media
  • Take photos
  • Video message

It’s also against the rules to simply be holding your phone in any way, including having it in your hand, on your lap or held between your shoulder and ear.

If you do want to use your phone for any of these things, you need to be parked out of the line of traffic - so no shooting off a quick text while you’re stopped at a red light or waiting in slow traffic.

The rules in other states

Although NSW drivers may now cop the biggest demerit point penalties over mobile phone use, other states and territories have very similar rules when it comes to using phones behind the wheel.

Generally, activities like texting, emailing, using social media and video messaging are illegal all over. Fully licensed drivers are usually allowed to make and receive calls and text messages, as long as the phone can be operated without touching it or if it’s mounted in a hands-free cradle. Having said that, it’s important to check the rules in your own state to make sure you’re not going to cop a fine!

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