While it is well known that you can’t use your phone while driving, an obscure rule has resulted in a number of drivers being fined for their passenger handling a mobile device.
The infringement has been used by New South Wales police to fine two separate drivers because a passenger in their car was caught watching video. Not the driver but the passenger was the ‘culprit’ in each instance.
One woman was fined in Catherine Field, southwest of Sydney, when her passenger was caught using a video-call function in the front seat. The Police issued a $337 infringement for “[driving a] vehicle with TV/VDU image likely to distract another driver.”
The second driver was fined on the Pacific Highway at Heatherbrae when his front passenger was seen using a laptop. This time the infringement was the more serious “[driving a] vehicle with TV/VDU image visible to driver”, which has the same $337 fine but also three demerit points.
Clarifying the rule, NSW Police said that “any part of the image on the screen” from a TV screen or a visual display unit must not be visible to the driver while the vehicle is moving or stationary, but not when parked.
The rule does not apply to GPS navigation systems, driver aids, and infotainment screens.
Victoria has a similar offence to NSW, “using a visual display unit or television illegally while driving”, which carries a punishment of four demerit points and a $484 fine. On the VicRoads website a unit that has a visual display is described as “DVD players or tablet computers”.
It remains unclear if this extends to phones playing videos or using video-call functions, or if the southern state’s police would enforce it to the same degree as in NSW.
Queensland drivers should also be wary, with the state’s road rules including an offence for “driving vehicle when image from television or visual display unit visible to the driver or likely to distract another driver”. In Queensland this offence carries a fine of $174 and three demerit points.
Again, it remains unclear if a passenger using a mobile phone would fall foul of the law, but the wording is vague enough that a fine could be applied in a similar way to NSW.
What we’re seeing is vague wording from an era before everyone had a mobile ‘mini-cinema’ in their pocket, combined with a police force that is cracking down on phone use. It means that drivers are breaking the law despite most doing what they think is the right thing.
The enforcement of this obscure rule in NSW could have a significant effect on the ride-share and taxi industries, with many customers of those services using phones when in the passenger seats, putting the driver at risk of significant fines.
It’s clear why the law exists – having a passenger hold up a screen for the driver to see is clearly dangerous and distracting. However, it seems that over policing is catching out road users who are trying to do the right thing.