Phone-Detecting Cameras: What NSW Drivers Need To Know

Image: Getty Images

The NSW Government recently announced it was introducing mobile phone detection cameras, which would be rolled out from late 2019 across the state. It's part of a plan to reduce fatalities by 30 per cent in two years and its trial has already been pretty effective. Here's what drivers in NSW - and other states - need to know.

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What's happening again?

The NSW Government announced on 22 September its mobile phone detection trial had been successful and it was looking to implement it state-wide by late 2019.

The trial came into effect in early 2019 after the relevant legislation was passed approving authorities to photograph drivers using their mobile phones while in moving vehicles. The trial ran between January and June 2019 and, according to Transport for NSW, checked 8.5 million vehicles during its time and detected more than 100,000 drivers illegally using their mobile phones.

Those caught were found to be browsing Facebook, text messaging and one driver was even caught allowing his passenger to steer the wheel. Wow.

Given the trial's success, fixed and portable phone detection cameras will now be positioned in 45 spots across the state and there won't be any warning signs like we're used to with existing speed cameras.

"We have to unfortunately use the element of surprise to get people to think 'well, I could get caught at any time'," Andrew Constance, NSW Minister for Transport and Roads, said.

"I want behaviour to change and I want it changed immediately.

"It's not about revenue — it's about saving lives."

You can watch the eerily silent announcement video from NSW for Transport below for a glimpse of what the technology will look like.

So, how does mobile phone detection work?

Using artificial intelligence, the cameras can detect mobile phone use in even the worst of conditions. Whether it's raining or cloudy, night or day, the camera will be able automatically review images of the front-seats of a vehicle. If the camera detects an offending driver, it will supposedly exclude the passenger from the image if they're not doing anything wrong. Images are then reviewed by an authorised human worker to verify an offence was made.

Image: YouTube/Transport For NSW

If you get nabbed by the camera within the first three months of its rollout, you'll get sent a warning letter, but once that's up all bets are on. An offence captured by the phone detection camera will cost you five demerit points and a $344 fine ($457 if it's in a school zone) for a first-time incident. During double demerit point periods, it will go up to 10 demerits.

If the rules of mobile phone use while driving still confuse you a bit, check out Transport for NSW's website. Below are the dos and donts for fully-licensed drivers.

Image: Transport for NSW

Just a friendly PSA there's a zero tolerance approach for learners and P-platers in NSW using phones while driving. A big old N-O.

NSW Texting And Driving Laws Are About To Get Much Tougher

From September 2018, just touching your phone while you're driving could be enough for NSW drivers to lose their license. The number of demerit points for using a phone while driving is set to increase from four to five this year, so drivers should probably brush up on the rules around phone use while driving now.

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Will other states get it?

You really shouldn't be using your phone while driving ever unless it's for hands-free navigation, or anything else in the 'legal basket', but still, the lack of signs or warning does feel unfair. While drivers living outside of NSW might feel a sense of relief for now, you shouldn't just yet. Visiting the state means you'll also be affected by the laws once the technology is rolled out and if it's successful, other states will likely look to introduce it as well.

Lifehacker Australia has reached out to the relevant road authorities in Queensland, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australian and Tasmania to confirm whether they have similar plans on the way and will update when they respond.

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    Anything to help prevent road incidents is very good. I applaud our government for adding this detection equipment.

    With the advent of smart phone voice recognition "hey Google, send text to Mum or read to me last message" I am shocked over 100,000 were still found using their silly fingers to text. Maybe be they were just unfortunates using Apple Inc devices which do have such functionality yet.

    Hopefully, people will wise up, knowing they are being watched.

      I completely agree with your sentiment. Just to be clear though, what you've cited as an example is illegal. It is in fact the very first example of things you can't do with your phone in the diagram above. Admittedly, I doubt you can get caught by this camera speaking to your phone to text somebody, but if you were to have an accident shortly after a text message was sent from your phone, or was received by your phone, you may have some explaining to do.

      Siri doesn't include punctuation by default, so my partner can tell when I'm sending her text messages by yelling in the car. Except now I've learned that you can punctuate pretty well by saying the punctuation as well.


      Seriously, there's no excuse for texting and driving. None. I'm glad the demerits are high enough to take someone's licence pretty quickly. They're endangering everyone else's lives with their ignorant, selfish, arrogant stupidity.

      I agree 'hey Google, send a message to ..' is pretty handy but the question it raises is what is "audio texting" which is apparently not allowed. I Googled it and came up blank, only finding voice texting which sounds rather what used to be called voice messaging. I searched the NSW road transport website and found only one other reference to it which is basically the same as the one above. Without a definition, its a bit hard to be compliant.

    First, it's not AI, it's an algorithm.
    Second, how does the camera know if you not just holding your garage door transmitter, or a pack of smokes or gum?
    The law of unintended consequences says crashes will go up because drivers will now hide/hold their phones further down to avoid detection.

    What do NSW drivers need to know?

    Don't use your phone while driving and you won't be caught.


    Government cant raise revenue if you dont break the law.

    So I've got a car with Android Auto support, and when you plug in via USB, the phone screen goes off and the car screen takes over (which you can then use for navigation etc). Does this still mean the phone needs to be in a cradle? Based on the intent of the law I would think not, but I don't trust over zealous human enforcement. I guess I could always bury the phone in the center console.

    Conversation here is starting to echo,"Australian government has failed to keep up with technology" on a rather important subject. Same ol same ol hu ?

    Sarah, the expression is "all bets are off", not "on".

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