As of 12:01am last night, if you were caught even stroking your phone from the comfort of your driver's seat in New South Wales, you'd pick up a fine of $298 from the boys and girls in blue. Here's a quick guide on your rights and responsibilities while driving so you can stay safe, connected and $300 better off.
The changes to the NSW Road Rules are broad (like, really broad), but the main point of interest is about the use of mobile phones while driving. Here's the updated regulations, as spelled out by Transport for NSW (PDF) (read: what you used to call the RTA):
While a vehicle is moving or stationary (but not parked), a driver may only use a mobile phone to make or receive a call or use the audio playing function:
• If the mobile phone is secured in a fixed mounting; or • If not in a mounting, use of the mobile phone must not require a driver to touch or manipulate the phone in any way.
All other functions including texting, video messaging, online chatting, reading preview messages and emailing are prohibited. The new laws make it clear that a driver in a moving or stationary vehicle (unless parked) MUST NOT HOLD a phone in his or her hand other than to pass the phone to a passenger. Penalty: 3 demerit points (4 in a school zone) and $298 ($397 in a school zone) NOTE: Learner and Provisional P1 drivers are not allowed to use ANY function of a phone (including hands-free) while driving.
In layman's terms, that basically means if you get caught even touching your phone while the car is running, you're nicked. Not only will you be $300 poorer in the best case scenario, you'll also be done out of three precious demerit points, and those penalties only go up if you're inside a school zone. So how can you make sure you're safe?
Obviously, you should comply with the law at all times. Using your phone will driving is an ill-advised activity, and several studies have said that even talking on a hands-free system as you drive is just as distracting as touching and interacting with the device itself. But if you're one of those folk who can't take a trip without losing connectivity, here are a few tips:
Get A Cradle
You can be sure that if there's a phone out there, there is someone making an in-car cradle for it. Everything from the iPhone 5 through to the enormous Samsung Galaxy Note II will have one that you can use.
If you choose go down this road, make sure the phone you're using comes with some sort of wireless answering system or Bluetooth functionality so you can answer it without actually touching it, because if you have to go hands-on, you'll be breaking the law.
Also, if you're super-concerned about the changing nature of dock connectors, make sure you get a cradle that can be adjusted and doesn't include a charging adaptor built-in. You can always buy a portable one that plugs into a cigarette lighter to go with whichever phone you find yourself saddled with at the time.
We touched on it in the last tip, but it's worth noting that the law doesn't actually mention a damn thing about your Bluetooth system. That feasibly means you could have a Bluetooth speaker attached to your visor, a headset on your ear or a built-in system in your car and not get nicked.
Speakers and headsets are fairly inexpensive, and a lot of new cars actually come with Bluetooth systems built-in. Make sure you pair up before you fire up the engine, though.
Most handsets now come with some kind of voice command system you can use via Bluetooth or other related headset. That means you'll be able to get around the bans on reading emails and texts on the go by just ordering your phone to read these things out to you. Just make sure however you activate the voice command system doesn't require you to go hands-on with the device and you ought to be in the clear.
Bring A Friend
The law states that you can only touch your phone if you're passing it to the passenger. That means if you're a social butterfly, you can always bring a friend with you to answer your phone when it rings.
Just Switch Off
Of course, there's a strong case to be made for just switching your phone to silent mode and throwing it in the back seat as you drive. If it's an important call, the person will leave a message or call you back later, and I'm yet to read an email out of the hundreds I get a day that I would happily break the law just to read.
Surely no email, text message or otherwise is worth $300 and possibly the lives of you, your passengers and even innocent bystanders, is it?
Those are just a few of our best tips for avoiding attention from the fuzz on the road. What are your best? Let us know in the comments.