Using your mobile phone while driving is dangerous and can prove expensive in penalties if you get caught.
Taking your eyes off the road, even for two seconds to check a notification on a mobile phone, can prove fatal. A vehicle going at 60 km/h would travel 33 meters while a driver’s eyes are focused on a mobile phone screen instead of the road ahead.
Between 2010 to 2014, there were 236 crashes in New South Wales involving drivers using hand-held mobile phones, according to the NSW Centre for Road Safety. This included seven fatal crashes and 116 injury crashes.
While the penalties differ, using a hand-held mobile phone while driving is illegal in all states and territories in Australia. The rules pertaining to mobile phone use also differ for drivers at different stages of driver licences.
Only fully licenced drivers are allowed to use mobile phones for making and receiving calls while driving, provided the phone is in a cradle fixed to a vehicle that doesn’t impede the driver’s vision, and they don’t touch the phone while driving.
This rule also applies to riders of bicycles or animals, and wheeled recreational devices like skateboards.
The mobile phone can be inside the pocket of clothing worn by the driver or a rider.
As more and more people are starting to use smartwatches, these are also subject to similar restrictions now. According to VicRoads, a driver can use a smartwatch to make and receive phone calls, play music or as a navigation device, provided it is not worn and is secured in commercially designed mounting affixed to the vehicle.
But drivers with learners and provisional licences are not allowed to use mobile phones at all - not even as a navigation device. They can, however, use a GPS device for navigation that is not a phone.
The Transport for NSW website states that these laws encourage drivers and riders with provisional licences to concentrate on developing their vehicle control and hazard-perception skills as mobile phone use can distract new drivers.
Illegal mobile phone use by learner and P1 drivers will cost them four demerit points which is beyond the demerit points threshold and the licence is cancelled for three months.
In Victoria, the penalty for illegal mobile phone use is $484 and in NSW, it’s $337.
Bakshinder Singh, a driving instructor in Adelaide says many drivers have misconceptions about when they can and can’t use their mobile phone.
“A client recently uploaded a photo on social media that was taken from the driver seat of a vehicle. I asked him whether he took the picture while driving. He said, ‘I was at a red light’,” said Mr Singh.
According to the law, a driver is not allowed to touch a mobile phone unless the vehicle is parked, even when it’s stopped at a traffic light. In South Australia, drivers face a penalty of $327 and three demerit points for this offence.
Mr Singh said not all learner and provisional drivers are aware that they can’t use a mobile phone as a navigation tool.
“There are many misconceptions about mobile phone use while driving. While some are using mobile phones illegally, there are others who are overcautious... or ignorant of the fact that if they are fully licenced, they can use their phone to make and receive voice calls.
"They would rather pull over before answering or making a phone call even if they are not required to touch the phone, just because they are not fully conversant with the rules," he said.
The RACV says drivers pulling over to make phone calls need to be careful that the vehicle is parked in a way that it doesn’t break road rules.
Pulling over into the emergency stopping lane on a freeway is not allowed except in emergency situations. Answering your mobile phone would generally not be considered an emergency situation.
Fully licenced drivers can use a mobile phone only for making or receiving voice calls, playing music and for navigation, provided they don't touch the phone and that it's secured in a commercially manufactured cradle fixed to the vehicle.