New and inexperienced drivers could be unwittingly breaking the law and risking hefty fines or even a licence suspension by using smartphone mirroring technology that is designed to reduce driver distraction and improve road safety.
Using a handheld mobile phone in any part of Australia while driving is illegal, but some states and territories also forbid P-plate drivers from using any phone functions, even when the device is in a purpose built cradle or connected to the vehicle’s built in information systems.
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While fully licenced drivers are free to use the various ‘hands free’ functions - including widely marketed Android Auto and Apple CarPlay - irrespective of the state or territory, it is not so cut and dried for new and inexperienced drivers.
General hands-free exemptions also apply to P-platers in Western Australia, Tasmania and the ACT, but it’s a different case in New South Wales, Victoria, Northern Territory, Queensland and South Australia where novice drivers are forbidden from using their phone at all including via a cradle or Bluetooth – in South Australia’s case this only applies to P1 (red plate) drivers, while in Queensland it applies only to P1 drivers under the age of 25.
The clarity of state-by-state laws is further muddied by their wordings, which don’t clearly state whether or not smartphone pairing technology, such as Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, can be used for non-phone functions via the car’s infotainment screen, such as navigation or music streaming.
The NSW, Queensland, South Australia and the Northern Territory laws banning P-platers from using mobile phones all use similar language, with phones being forbidden from any use while driving, including hands-free mode and Bluetooth technology or loud speaker operation, while driving or while your vehicle is stopped but not parked.
WhichCar asked Transport for NSW whether or not the law considered or applied to Apple CarPlay/Android Auto and the ability to use non-phone functions via car’s touchscreen, to which a spokesman responded: “It is illegal for any learner and provisional drivers to use a mobile phone at any time while driving and this includes the use of touchscreens via Bluetooth connections such as Apple CarPlay. These drivers may only use a mobile phone if their vehicle is parked out of the line of traffic.”
WhichCar has contacted the South Australian and Queensland transport departments to clarify their laws.
This leaves Victoria, whose peak roads body VicRoads states that P1 and P2 drivers “must not use a mobile phone of any kind – no hands-free or hand-held, or any messaging (includes reading text messages).
A check with VicRoads found that the state with among the toughest traffic laws and enforcement has a more pragmatic approach to P-platers using Apple CarPlay Android Auto, with a spokesperson telling WhichCar: “A novice driver must pair their phone with Apple Carplay or Android Auto for music or navigation only before driving their vehicle, but cannot touch their Visual Display Unit while driving.
“They cannot use other phone functions on the Visual Display Unit, such as making or receiving calls, texting or social media. Novice drivers must also ensure that their phone is out of reach and sight while driving (for example in the glovebox).”
Of course rules surrounding L- and P-platers in each state are subject to change as governments consistently seek to address the high accident rate amongst young drivers, so be sure to regularly check the rules in your state, or any state you intend driving to, as ignorance of the law isn’t a valid defence in the eyes of the law.