Driven to Distraction

Currently, a driver caught by the cameras breaching seatbelt or mobile phone laws will receive a $1,078 fine and four demerit points. But double demerit points apply for a second or subsequent mobile phone offence, committed within 1 year of the earlier offence.

The Transport Legislation (Distracted Driver and Other Matters) Amendment Regulation 2021 (Qld) made various amendments in respect of the use of mobile phones, and the wearing of seatbelts, by drivers on Queensland roads. Since enforcement began in November 2021, $159 million in fines have been issued from seatbelt and mobile phone cameras throughout the State.

Currently both fixed cameras fitted to existing infrastructure and portable cameras at random locations are being used. The cameras take multiple images and use artificial intelligence software to filter and detect possible mobile phone use or failure to wear a seatbelt. With driver distraction being one of the major causes of crashes, and estimated to contribute to around almost 20% of serious injuries on the road, it is no wonder the Queensland government has taken a strong stance against drivers doing the wrong thing.

Currently, a driver caught by the cameras breaching seatbelt or mobile phone laws will receive a $1,078 fine and four demerit points. But double demerit points apply for a second or subsequent mobile phone offence, committed within 1 year of the earlier offence. The Minister for Transport and Main Roads, Mark Bailey, noted at the time of the rollout in 2021 that the “message has been direct and simple: just put your phone away,” and then helpfully reminded us that “every dollar collected through these fines is invested back into making Queensland’s roads safer”.

Last month, a Gold Coast man charged with using a mobile device while driving convinced the Court to find in his favour because the device was incapable of making calls. He explained to the Court the device only played music and had no mobile phone functionality. Her Honour Magistrate Dzenita Balic accepted that evidence, and noted that the legislation explicitly refers to drivers not using a mobile phone, as opposed to any other device. “Reasonable minds might differ as to the presentation of the device and its possible use,” Her Honour noted, “But to my mind, paying regard to the nature of the evidence, this was not a mobile phone at the time.”

The Minister Mr Bailey described Magistrate Balic’s ruling as “unusual”, opining that “clearly the driver was still distracted, which is the intent of the legislation,” and confidently assured “If there is any loophole that exists, we’ll be seeking to close it”. Watch this space.

But whatever happens from here on in, the decision seems to suggest that the legislation around driving and dialling is outdated, and potentially fails to adequately cover the unstoppable tide of technological change. However effective the new laws may be, it seems there may still be a failure to get across the important message that telephones and cars just don’t mix.

Of course, the same can be said of a lot of other things as well, such as changing the radio station, searching for music, vaping, eating and drinking, or even applying one’s makeup, to say nothing of refereeing screaming children in the backseat. The potential distractions, it seems, may be limitless.

Under section 83 of the Transport Operations (Road Use Management) Act 1995 (Qld), any person who drives a motor vehicle on a road or elsewhere without due care and attention, or without reasonable consideration for other persons using the road or place, is guilty of an offence. That covers a broad range of sins.

So don’t get distracted this holiday season. Leave all those gifts from Santa sitting on the back seat, and make sure you stay safe on the road. Simple things can save lives.

Nicola Ellis

Gold Coast Lawyer, Nyst Legal

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