Still using your mobile! Really?

Mobile phone fines

Queensland now has the toughest penalties in Australia for people caught illegally using their mobiles while driving. According to the latest Budget Direct survey, most people think heavy fines ($1,000 or more) and demerit points will deter people from texting. Yet, more than a quarter say nothing will stop them!

Fines for phone use

While Queensland currently has the highest fine for illegal phone use – even for cyclists – NSW has the highest number of demerits. During a double demerit period, it is very easy to lose your licence completely. WA maximum penalty will match Qld’s fine from 1 July this year. ACT Is the only place where fines and points differ according to whether drivers use the phone for a voice call or for internet and messaging.

Qld $1,000* ($2,000 re-offence within year) 4
ACT $589 internet/$480 calls 4/3
SA $534 3
NT $500 3
Vic $496 4
WA $400 ($500-$1,000 from 1 July) 3 (3-4)
NSW $344 ($457 in school zone) 5
Tas $336 3

*includes cyclists.

In NSW, younger drivers said they are less confident than last year about using their phones in the car. This seems positive. However drivers over 45 and especially drivers 55-64 were more confident than last year. This was one of the surprising findings of the Budget Direct survey. It suggests more mature drivers think they have the skills to drive and use their phones, whether it is illegal or not.

Still misunderstandings about illegal phone use

There are still misunderstandings about what you can and cannot do with mobiles in the car. Respondents said the main reason they use their phones while driving is because they feel safe and capable of doing so. In fact, it does not matter how safe and capable you feel – any kind of handheld mobile use while driving incurs fines.

The main way many people use their phones is checking it while stopped at traffic lights. They think it’s enough to be stationary – it’s not. If you want to check and text, you have to stop out of the flow of traffic and turn off your engine.

Respondents suggest the top two ways to reduce illegal mobile use are tougher penalties, followed by mobile-detection cameras. The third way was “nothing would be effective”. It matches the finding that more than a quarter say nothing, not even $1,000 fines, would deter them.

Even so, the news is not all bad.

The message is working

Warnings about using mobiles in cars must be making a difference because the number of fines issued in NSW is dropping. After single digit increases every year from 2014/15 to 2017/18, the trend is dramatically falling.

Fines issued fell by a quarter from 2017/18 to 2018/19 and, if the first 6 months of 2019/20 are annualised, will fall by just over a quarter again. Since 1 March 2020, NSW mobile phone detection cameras stopped giving warnings and started issuing fines of $344 and 5 demerits. This could deter illegal phone use further and reduce fines issued for the third year running.

What about the people who say nothing will stop them? It appears mobile phones could be as addictive as drugs.

Corrina Baird

Writer and expert

Corrina used to lend her car to her kids and discovered first hand what Ls, Ps and demerits mean for greenslips. After 20 years of writing and research in financial services, she’s an expert in the NSW CTP scheme. Read more about Corrina

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