Crime

The truth behind mobile phones and driving

As Western Australia’s police crack down on mobile phone use in cars, some motorists are left confused and overwhelmed by what constitutes a driving on the phone infringement.

In late 2015, Rowie Stewart was about to become one of more than 10,000 people issued with a mobile phone related traffic infringement that year.

She copped a $400 fine and lost three demerit points.

WA Police vow to crack down on mobile phone use

Rowie Stewart takes a call while stationary in a car park. Photo: Georgia Williss

Travelling home after lunch with friends, Miss Stewart thought she was doing the right thing by not using her phone, and placing it on her lap as she drove along Canning Highway in Bicton.

Drumming her hands on the steering wheel to the sound of the music, waiting for the lights to turn green, she was surprised when a police officer appeared at her window.

Miss Stewart said she was confused at the time. Now, more than nine months later, she still grapples to understand the merit behind the fine.

So what constitutes a driving on the phone charge?

Under regulation 265 of the Road Traffic Code 2000, a driver must not use or touch a mobile phone while the vehicle is moving, unless the body of the phone is secured in a mount affixed to the vehicle.

Director of Terry Dobson Legal, Terry Dobson, a lawyer and former detective for the WA police, specialises in areas of traffic law.

Mr Dobson said, ‘driving while on the phone’ refers to any activity that involves the need to touch the phone, including the keypad or screen.

“Texting, phoning, tweeting, using social media, emailing, browsing the internet and even looking at photos on your phone constitutes an infringement,” he said.

“Even if the phone is resting on your lap, it serves as a distraction. If you receive a text and become distracted for 1.5 seconds, traveling at 50km/h, it means your car has travelled 21m, and a lot can happen in that time.”

Mr Dobson said that as a source of distraction the use of a mobile phone while driving reduces driver attentiveness and reduces a driver’s ability to react quickly.

The recognition of this and the increased risk of an accident occurring is why such laws surrounding mobile phone use while driving have been introduced.

Now, some might argue daily activities that occur in the car such as eating, applying makeup and drinking are a distraction.

If this is classified as a distraction, are drivers at risk of being fined for daily activities that we all do?

WA Police Constable Jeremy Lloyd stationed at Cockburn Police Station said the Road Traffic Act 1974 accounts for this.

“If you cause an accident or put other road users at risk while performing activities such as eating, drinking or applying makeup while driving then you can be charged for careless driving or driving with due care and attention,” Constable Lloyd said.

While some might argue against the Road Traffic Act 1974, criminal lawyer of Saupin Legal, and family man, Marc Saupin, said any laws protecting society from distracted and dangerous drivers should be enforced.

“As a dad to young children I stand by any law that reduces the potential risk of someone being injured, even if this means restricting people from eating food in the car,” Mr Saupin said.

“When it comes to GPS systems, iPads and visual display units, again the device must not be touched in order to operate it.”

He said that if the driver were able to see a visual display unit from a normal driving position they too could be prosecuted.

However there is an exemption to this.

Visual display units that aid the driver, such as those found in emergency vehicles and taxis are exempt from this regulation.

However, the display unit must be integrated within the vehicle design or secured in a mount affixed to the vehicle.

When it comes to educating society on these laws, Terry Dobson said society needs to realise the potential danger of a distracted driver behind the wheel.

“I think it comes down to the individual and them realising how dangerous a motor vehicle can be if not used properly,” Mr Dobson said.

Constable Lloyd said that, to avoid infringement, drivers should only use mobile phones while driving if they are secured in a mount affixed to the vehicle, or can be controlled via a Bluetooth hands free controller.

Under regulation 265 of the Road Traffic Code 2000 anyone caught using a mobile phone while driving could be fined $400 and accrue three demerit points.

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