‘World-first’ crackdown on drivers

MOTORISTS could find themselves inadvertently driving on the wrong side of the law with a beef-up of road safety laws.

On Tuesday, NSW Roads Minister Melinda Pavey announced that, from September, the state would double down on controversial drug driving offences and further punish drivers who use a mobile phone while on the move.

Drivers will now get five demerit points rather than four for illegal phone use. The move will make NSW the strictest state in the country for the offence.

Ms Pavey said a survey by the Government had shown 74 per cent of the community supported further limiting in-car mobile phone use: "We all see it and the community has had enough."

NSW is to increase the punishment for using mobile phones behind the wheel. Picture: AAP IMAGE / Troy Snook.
NSW is to increase the punishment for using mobile phones behind the wheel. Picture: AAP IMAGE / Troy Snook.

The government had introduced legislation to enable camera-based technology to catch drivers in the act of holding their phones which, Ms Pavey claimed, was a "world first".

The Victorian government trailed a similar technology last year and caught 270 drivers in a five-hour test across one lane of traffic. The Victorian government also claimed at the time that its technology was a "world-first".

In NSW, a mobile phone can only be used for calls, music or navigation if it held within a cradle or can be operated without touching any part of the device. Texting, emailing and taking photos is all prohibited.

Drug laws already means it's an offence to drive if there are drugs in your system. These can include anything from ecstasy to cold and flu tablets prescribed by your GP.

Now the law is to be extended so new drugs, illicit or prescription, can quickly be added to the roster of tested banned substances on the road.

"Ice has been around a decade but where was it 20 years ago, where was it 30 years ago?" Ms Pavey told the Daily Telegraph on Tuesday.

"This gives us some capacity to move swiftly if we see other drugs emerging."

Almost 400 people lost their lives on NSW roads last year, with Government figures suggesting drugs were "a major contributing factor" in around 10 per cent of deaths.

Mobile drug tests are usually conducted the same time as random breath tests for alcohol.

However, critics have questioned why testing kits used by police only test for illegal drugs such as ecstasy and cannabis, while prescription drugs are only tested for if a motorists appears impaired.

NSW wants to be able to add more drugs to those it can prosecute drivers for having in their system.
NSW wants to be able to add more drugs to those it can prosecute drivers for having in their system.

Speaking to news.com.au earlier this year, Greens MP David Shoebridge said drivers were also being penalised for having drugs in their system, even if the traces were so low it would be likely the effects would have worn off potentially days ago.

"We've got this ridiculous situation where people are losing their licence because a trace amount of THC is being picked up in their system three days after they last had a joint," he said.

"They are being punished by rules which are arbitrary and grossly unfair.

"What we need for drugs is a system like the rightly-celebrated system we have for drinking - the roadside breath test. That way, we could determine who is fit to drive and who isn't because that is all people care about."

If police detect the presence of drugs in a motorist's system, the court can impose a fine of up to $1100 and an automatic six month licence disqualification. If it's proven the driver was under the influence of illegal or prescription drugs the fine can rise to $3300, disqualification for three years and can include up to 18 months in prison.



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