In recent years, the growing dangers of using a mobile phone while driving have led to media campaigns to ‘get your hand off it!’.
While tougher penalties were put in place to act as a deterrent, the enforcement of those laws has proved to be a problem as it relies heavily on police being able to see people using their phones while driving.
Police have already issued thousands of fines to NSW drivers for using their mobiles while driving.
The offence currently attracts a fine of $311 and a loss of 3 demerit points in normal circumstances, or $415 and 4 demerit points in a school zone.
Despite the heavy penalties, surveys consistently show that around 40% of adult drivers still admit to using their phones while driving.
But this could all be about to change.
Scientific innovations in the US may soon enable police to tell if people on the road are using their mobile phones, all without actually having to peer into their cars.
The device is not yet being produced, but it has been described by the inventor ‘ComSonics’ as close to finalisation.
It would work by detecting whether mobile phone data is being transmitted from inside a particular car, with censors being able to tell police which cars had mobiles that were actively in use.
But before being concerned about police intercepting texts or calls, ComSonics states that there would be no suc privacy concerns with this kind of technology.
This is because the device would not allow police to intercept the actual data, but only to know that some mobile activity was taking place.
But it remains unclear whether the device would be able to tell if the use was legal or illegal: specifically, whether a passenger or driver was using the device, or whether it was being used by Bluetooth or other legal, hands-free devices.
The accuracy of the device is also uncertain: could it distinguish between cars in heavy traffic? Especially where the police car is directly behind?
Police are increasingly turning to technology to help enforce penalties for driving while on the phone.
Earlier this year, Victoria introduced cameras to target disobedient drivers.
New cameras will be used by police stationed by the side of the road with extra-long zoom lenses, enabling the camera operator to see inside the car from up to 700 metres away, far before the driver can spot them.
These cameras can capture footage of drivers who are using mobile phones or not wearing seatbelts.
The images pop up on a screen and a police vehicle is sent off to intercept offending drivers.
Western Australia has similar strategies in place – with roadside speed cameras that can catch drivers.
But unlike the Victorian system where an officer is operating the camera and catches the driver in the act, Western Australian police screen the images taken by speed cameras to see if the driver was on their phone as well.
This has also instigated a change in the rules relating to issuing infringement notices.
In the past, officers could only give fines if they caught drivers in the act, not if later on it was found that they were on their phone too.
But now, several people have already been sent fines after being caught this way.
According to the Roads and Maritime Services (RMS), the two biggest distractions for drivers are adjusting the sound system and conversations with passengers.
But mobile phones are also a serious risk factor.
According to the NSW Transport authority, drivers using mobile phones have significantly slower reaction times and an inability to recognise road hazards.
Drivers are also less able to stay within their lane, maintain a constant speed and keep a safe distance from other vehicles.
They are also more likely to miss road signs.
Even short messages like “I’ll be home soon” are said to have been the catalyst for major accidents, and could be the last message a driver ever sends.
Clearly, safety is the reason why we shouldn’t be using phones while we drive.
But for those who don’t put away their phones, new technology and the increased risk of getting caught might be an effective deterrent.