Drivers in WA could pay the highest fines in Australia if they illegally use their mobiles while driving. There are two types of penalty depending on how they use the phone.
If they text, email, use social media, watch videos or access the internet while driving, it’s $1,000 on-the-spot fine and four demerits. If they touch their phone while stopped at traffic lights, or hold their phone for a voice call, it’s $500 and three demerits.
These new penalties come in from 1 July 2020. Queensland has just introduced $1,000 fine for all illegal mobile use, which was the harshest in Australia until WA stepped in. Northern Territory has the lowest, at $250.
Stop the distraction
Authorities hope higher fines will be sufficient deterrent to stop the distraction caused by using mobile phones. They also hope to change driving culture, making phones as unacceptable while driving as drinking alcohol, taking drugs or not wearing a seatbelt. Many road accidents are caused by distracted drivers, although there are no solid figures on how many are caused by mobile phone use.
It is not clear that increasing fines necessarily stops the behaviour. Illegal mobile phone use continued to increase, from 2014 to 2018, in spite of higher penalties in WA. However, NSW has seen a dramatic drop in fines issued in the past 2 years. While the “worst offenders” in WA continue to take “deliberate risks”, as authorities claim, research suggests this may be true of up to a quarter of all drivers.
The best way to avoid using your phone while driving is to put it out of reach, on the back seat or in the glovebox.
WA intends to watch what happens in Queensland following the introduction of a blanket $1,000 fine.