THE DAILY TELEGRAPH Thursday 2 September 2004

 

Law lets police off the hook

 

By BRAD CLIFTON

THOUSANDS of NSW motorists are being fined for driving with mobile phones held to their ears, while the state's 15,000 police are free to do so without penalty.

While it is an offence for a citizen to use a hand-held phone while driving, the same rules do not apply to police.

A clause in section 300 of the Australian Road Rules states that drivers of emergency vehicles or police vehicles are exempt from the legislation.

And, it seems, public servants working for the police department are also taking advantage of the legal loophole.

The Daily Telegraph understands that civil servants who drive police department vehicles as part of their job are freely using mobile phones in the knowledge they will not face the $226 fine the offence attracts.

Police Minister John Watkins has described as "unacceptable" the fact that 50 motorists are booked for the offence each day.

He defended the right of police officers to be exempt from the legislation, stating the clause was to ensure police could receive "emergency phone calls".

 

"They don't use their mobile phones for personal reasons on the job, a spokeswoman for Mr Watkins said. "But they're able to take emergency phone calls if they need to."

That excuse is considered ludicrous by those who view the official police radio as the only device that should be used.

Pedestrian Council of Australia chairman Harold Scruby labelled the police exemption "ridiculous".

"It's legal, but it shouldn't be. I think it's outrageous," Mr Scruby said. "I've never heard a cogent or reason-able argument to sustain that law." He said the fact police were exempt under the legislation would not necessarily exculpate them if they were involved in a serious incident.

"If a police officer was involved in a serious or fatal accident while using a mobile phone, I would say there would be a very, very strong case for culpable driving," he said.

Mr Scruby's argument was backed up by Opposition MP Ian Armstrong, who said the issue had been of personal concern for some time.

"I don't think it's a good example for the police to set," Mr Armstrong said. "It's got nothing to do with whether they're police or private citizens, it's all to do with safety."