Mobile phone offenders face greater scrutiny

NSW Government flags option of allowing footage from police cameras to be used to prosecute motorists for mobile phone offences

By Brad Gardner | October 7, 2013

Footage from police operated cameras in New South Wales could soon be used to allow authorities to prosecute road users for mobile phone offences.

The NSW Government flagged the option in its response to a parliamentary inquiry from the Joint Standing Committee on Road Safety (Staysafe) into road user distraction.

Among a list of 21 recommendations, the inquiry sought, and gained, government support for an enhanced enforcement approach to the use of mobile phones while driving.

"Future legislative reform may be considered to allow photographic evidence from police operated cameras to be used for prosecution of mobile phone offences," the NSW Government says in its written response to the inquiry.

"The NSW Police Force will investigate various camera technologies that could be used to complement on-road enforcement offences of illegally using a mobile phone while driving."

The Government also pledged to look at non-legislative options to make it quicker and cheaper for authorities to access the phone records of drivers involved in crashes. It says it will consider legislative amendments if existing powers are not enough.

Staysafe wants Transport for NSW and NSW Police to be given the power to collect mobile phone data from vehicles at crash sites to determine if they contributed to the crash.

The inquiry also recommends the Government create a separate offence category for people caught texting on their phones while driving.

The Government says it will consult other jurisdictions at a national level about the feasibility of introducing offences commensurate with the level of risk.

"Research has found that non-voice based communications such as texting pose a greater crash risk, [but] there are practical difficulties to define and enforce a separate non-voice communication offence," the Government says.

It says Transport for NSW representatives proposed the creation of a separate non-voice based communications offence during a June 2012 meeting of the Australian Road Rules Maintenance Group.

"The proposal was rejected because of concerns about practical enforceability," it says.

"Feedback from interstate representatives was that it may be difficult for a police officer at the roadside to ascertain whether a driver using his or her phone is texting or emailing or making a phone call."

Despite Staysafe recommending an increase in penalties for people repeatedly caught using their mobile phone, the Government has ruled out heading down that path.

"The offence data does not suggest that repeat offending is a major problem with regards to mobile phone offences," it says.

It says increasing the risk of being caught for mobile offences is more effective, pointing to the fact that motorists accumulate demerit points each time they are caught and therefore run the chance of losing their licence.

The inquiry also issued recommendations covering the development of a standard definition of distraction, research into whether advertising billboards affect crash rates, and an expansion of road safety education in schools.

The NSW Government says will work to create a definition of distraction for the Australian Road Rules Maintenance Group to consider.

Furthermore, the Government says it supports conducting research into the impact of billboards on crash rates at locations where the signs are displayed. However, it adds that it may take a number of years of collecting data to determine if there is a specific trend.

The Government adds that NSW is currently the only state with road safety education as a mandatory part of the school curriculum.

"The Board of Studies has proposed to include distraction in the new curriculum for Kindergarten to Year 12," the State Government’s written response says.

Staysafe was tasked with looking at the role of distraction in crashes and then proposing solutions to address the problem.

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