NSW will be the first place in the world to introduce speed-camera-style technology to detect and crack down on illegal mobile phone use by motorists.
To reduce the numbers of people killed or seriously injured on the roads, the new rules passed by NSW Parliament on Wednesday also extend mobile drug testing to include cocaine and toughen penalties for drivers under the influence of drugs.
The NSW Minister for Roads, Melinda Pavey, likened the decision to allow cameras to detect illegal phone use by drivers as similar to the ''revolutionary'' decision on December 17, 1982 to introduce breath-testing technology to catch motorists driving under the influence. It cut fatal accidents by 48 per cent.
Between 2012 to 2017, 184 crashes involved illegal mobile phone use, and resulted in seven deaths and 105 injuries.
“The community wants safer roads and better driver behaviour,” said Mrs Pavey.
"Three quarters of those surveyed supported the use of cameras to enforce illegal mobile phone use."
In February, a 22-year-old man who allegedly took his eyes off the road for up to 20 seconds to use his phone seriously injured two policemen setting up a random breath test.
That 20 seconds of mobile phone use in a car travelling at 60km/h was equivalent to driving blind for 330 metres, Parliament was told. As a result, one of the police officers had part of his leg amputated.
Mrs Pavey said it was not a revenue-raising measure because the new legislation directed funds raised from fines into a Community Road Safety Fund.
Road safety experts have been shocked by the lengths motorists go to hide mobile use.
Trials by One Task, a Sydney technology company, of speed cameras to spot illegal use detected more than 400 Sydneysiders using phones illegally in a 12-hour period.
More than 40,000 people were fined by NSW Police for illegal mobile phone use in the 2016-17 financial year.
The project manager at One Task, Alex McCredie, told Radio 2GB that the problem was "endemic" and recommended increased surveillance to catch more people. It was so unusual to be caught that when someone was fined they treated it like they "had been struck by lightning".
A fully licensed driver illegally using a mobile phone cops a $330 fine and four demerit points, and attracts double demerits during police blitzes.
Learner, P1 and P2 licence holders are not permitted to use a mobile phone at all, including when stuck in traffic.
Fully licensed drivers may only use their phone - as long as it is used hands free - to play audio, make or answer a call, or for navigation. Drivers can't hold phones, nestle them in laps or cradle them between shoulder and ear.
The NSW government will call in the next month for official expressions of interest from companies interested in providing the technology.
The NSW Opposition's roads spokesperson, Jodi McKay, told Parliament she supported the use of new technology but she attacked the government for enacting legislation before the technology had been identified.
"The minister is asking for broad and unfettered powers to trial and introduce technology that we know little, if anything about," said Ms McKay.
The Nationals MP Stephen Bromhead said only "ratbags" use a mobile phone while driving.
"If drivers lock their mobile phone in the boot of their vehicle before they start driving, they will not be caught by any cameras or technology and they will have absolutely nothing to worry about," he said in Parliament.
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