Driven to distraction: mobiles still a menace

The Daily Telegraph

Friday 18 July 2003

TALKATIVE motorists continue to flout the law with more than 30 a day booked for using mobile phones while driving.

More than 12,710 motorists have been fined since new penalties - including a $220 fine and three demerit points - were introduced on July 1, last year.

Police yesterday warned that drivers caught sending text messages faced the same penalties.

Police Minister John Watkins said police were serious about enforcing the law and “stopping drivers fooling around with their phones when their eyes should be on the road”.

Critics yesterday claimed the penalties were not a strong enough deterrent.

Traffic Commander John Hartley conceded police were not able to book every motorist they saw talking on the phone while driving.

“An officer may see some one heading in the opposite direction but has to weigh up safety factors before deciding to turn around and pull the car over,” Chief Superintendent Hartley said.

Education programs and not tougher penalties was the only way to get the message through to drivers, Chf-Supt Hartley said.

“No matter what the penalty is, people will still do it,” he said.

“The most important part is getting the message out there to drivers that this is a really dangerous thing to do and, with modern technology, there is no excuse to be talking on a phone while driving”.

Chf-Supt Hartley said using a hand-held phone while stopped at traffic signals was also illegal.

A Telstra survey found a third of motorists admitted talking on a mobile while driving and one in six had taken their eyes off the road to send or read messages.

Pedestrian Council of Australia chairman Harold Scruby said the current penalties were no deterrent.

“You only have to go out on Sydney's roads and within a minute or two you will see someone driving and talking on their mobile phone,” he said. “It should be the law that drivers have both hands on the wheel.”

Mr Scruby called for the fine to be increased to $500 and attract double demerits during holiday periods.

Opposition police spokesman Peter Debnam said police figures did not reflect the real number offenders.

“I would personally see 20 to 30 people a day driving with their phone to their ear and they're not being caught because local police simply don't have the resources,” he said.