Caught out one-handed Mobile users fined

The Sunday Telegraph

Sunday 5 January 2003
Our drive to natter: Penalties are failing to stop motorists using mobile phones

By police writer RHETT WATSON

POLICE are catching at least 35 motorists a day talking on their mobile phones while driving, despite tough penalties introduced six months ago.

A $220 fine and the loss of three points, introduced on July 1, were designed to curtail the potentially dangerous practice.

But investigations by The Sunday Telegraph have revealed the problem is still rife in Sydney, even in heavy, peak-hour traffic.

Official police figures show 4337 people were fined for the offence between July and October, 294 more than for the same period in 2001.

More than 42,000 people have been fined for the offence in the past four years, but it is only in the past six months that penalties have been increased as a deterrent.

Police believe the increasing number of mobile phones in the community has caused the rise in offences.

But Pedestrian Council of Australia chairman Harold Scruby says the problem is worsening, and has called on the State Government to lift fines to at least $500.

Mr Scruby said he wanted the three demerit points doubled during holidays, in line with penalties for speeding and not wearing a seat belt. "We are seeing no major change in what people are doing," Mr Scruby told The Sunday Telegraph.

"The $220 fine is a joke. How stupid these laws are. It's the same penalty for driving in a bus lane - and that isn't dangerous."

Mr Scruby said he feared motorists using mobile phones would cause fatal accidents.

"There will come a time when someone will go to jail for killing a person in an accident because of this." he said.

People caught under the new, tougher penalties have paid almost $1 million in fines in six months.

Transport Minister Carl Scully took the get-tough stance after a British study revealed drivers using mobile phones had slower reaction times than drink-drivers with readings of .08 per cent.

Telstra research into the problem has revealed that 10 per cent of people do not believe it illegal to use a handheld mobile phone while driving.

The same number admitted to having almost had an accident while using one, while 50 per cent of people admitted to having answered the phone while driving.