Most drivers will admit to checking their cell phone behind the wheel on occasion. Maybe they’re stopped at a red light or are in bumper-to-bumper traffic and want to quickly check on a text message or email. Isolated incidents like this are somewhat understandable… but when the situation quickly escalates into a major issue that is endangering thousands, it’s clear that something must be done.

Hidden Camera

The New South Wales government certainly feels that way, and they’ve put themselves in a position to take action. Earlier in 2018, officials announced the launch of a new program where they would begin using high-tech cameras in an effort to detect illegal mobile phone use from massive distances away — often as far as a kilometer. Based on the results of the program, fines would then be issued without drivers even being aware that they’d been caught doing something wrong in the first place. Though the program itself is still relatively young, the results were already overwhelming — and shocking.

Driver Conduct Revealed: What You Need to Know

A wide range of different drivers have been caught red-handed engaged in a variety of shocking behaviors, often in speed zones with limits as high as 80 to 100 kilometers per hour. Just a few of the situations that police uncovered included, but are not limited to, people texting while using both hands, eating, reading books and even using illegal drugs — all behind the wheels of their cars.

But that’s not all. Drivers were also recorded during a number of different “off the wall” activities, including speeding with both hands OFF the wheel, driving with their pets in their laps (or otherwise totally unrestrained), doing their makeup and even reaching for objects located elsewhere in the car.

The program itself was launched as a response to two police officers who were sadly injured when a van crashed through an RBT site in the early months of 2018. As a result of that single incident, one of the officers had to have his foot and part of his lower leg amputated. The other officer merely suffered a broken leg, but at that point, the damage was already catastrophic. The driver walked away from the incident totally unharmed. Later, he admitted that he wasn’t paying as much attention to the road as he should have been — in fact, he had been looking at his phone for minutes before the accident occurred.

But in a lot of ways, this event was merely the straw that broke the camel’s back. The problem itself had been around for a long time, and indeed, one study revealed that 184 separate crashes between 2012 and 2017 involved some type of illegal mobile phone use. Those crashes resulted in no less than seven deaths and a massive 105 injuries.

Under the current NSW road rules, both learners and P1 drivers are expressly forbidden from using mobile phones while driving. The penalty is a severe one — four demerit points awarded instantly. For drivers who still maintain “learner” status, this means that they could easily face a three-month license suspension for just a single incident.

One of the companies behind this new hidden camera program — One Task — has even been sharing snapshots of drivers engaged in unsafe practices online. All told, they estimate that somewhere between 5 and 7% of all drivers in every city use their phones while operating a motor vehicle at high speeds on a regular basis. Their own footage showed that somewhere between 4 and 6.2% of all P-Plate drivers were illegally using their phones behind the wheel.
The company also estimates that if there are 100,000 people crossing the Harbour Bridge, it would be possible under this system to catch as many as 500 of them breaking the law. Right now, the NSW police give out fines to about 109 people a day for illegal cell phone use.

While it’s clear that this is one problem that is only going to get worse before it gets better, it’s safe to say that programs like this one are a clear step in the right direction — especially when it comes to preserving the safety of us all.