Police call for ban on drivers text messaging

Sun-Herald

Sunday 8 August 2004
By John Kidman, Police Reporter

The state's top traffic policeman has foreshadowed a national ban on using mobile phones to text message behind the wheel.

Police had already requested changes to road rules that would outlaw the "downright dangerous" practice, traffic services commander John Hartley said.

NSW Roads Minister Carl Scully has also thrown his weight behind the initiative, promising to consider new laws designed to bolster the ban should it become a reality.

"We are asking, and we believe it will be accepted, that the ARR [Australian Road Rules] maintenance committee change its wordings," Superintendent Hartley said.

"I'm concerned that it is not a specific offence to text, even when the phone is in a cradle."

Mr Scully's office said on Friday the minister would be happy to look at new legislation to rectify the loophole.

"It's obviously something that is extremely unsafe, so if the police believe they can enforce it, we'll back it," a spokesman for Mr Scully said.

While there had been no fatal accidents linked officially to the use of mobile phones in NSW, two Victorian youngsters recently lost their lives.

Emily Compton, 13, and Stephanie McCoy-Bassington, 14, were killed near Warrnambool on July 24 when the car in which they were riding ran out of control and slammed into a power pole.

It is believed a backseat passenger in the vehicle passed a mobile phone to the driver moments before the impact so that he could read an SMS message.

Over the past two years, mobiles had been linked to seven NSW crashes which had caused serious injury, Superintendent Hartley said. Vehicles had been towed from the scenes of a further 16 accidents in which no one was hurt.

Even so, the incidence of motorists caught using phones illegally while driving was on the rise, he said.

Last year, police issued 16,393 infringement notices for such offences, a 20 per cent increase on the 13,137 handed out in 2002. More than 9800 motorists
had been fined this year.

"It's a fine of $231 and three demerit points - a fairly serious penalty," Superintendent Hartley said. "But more and more people are being caught. I'm
concerned about people who obviously get carried away by using the phone and lose concentration.

"I think it's a matter of us needing to look at more studies, even on using hands-free mobiles while we're driving, to determine what steps to take and what to do next. In the meantime, I would discourage the behaviour and police will continue enforcements targeting people using hand-held phones across the state."

In the case of drivers sending and receiving texts, catching offenders in the act would be difficult, he said.

Police would not hesitate to search network records to see if a phone had been in use at the time, he warned.

Pedestrian Council of Australia chairman Harold Scruby said anyone caught texting while driving should be made to forfeit their licence immediately.
"They should lose their licence on the spot for six months," he said.
"The potential for harm is so great the penalty has to be brought up to that for high-range speeding.

"The danger is so great because you are taking your eyes off the road for quite a long time while you're focusing."