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Mobile phone detection cameras are now in use at locations across New South Wales. As of March 2020, camera detected mobile phone use will result in fines and demerit points.

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Image captured by mobile phone detection camera

NSW Mobile Phone Detection Cameras

Background of mobile phone detection cameras in NSW

Mobile phone detection cameras were trialled in New South Wales between January and June 2019. The trial consisted of two fixed cameras and relocatable cameras which were moved approximately every 4 days. During that trial over 8.5 million vehicles were checked and over 100,000 drivers were found to be using their mobile phone while driving. The initial trial involved three companies with Victorian company, Acusensus ultimately being awarded the contract. On 28th February 2019 the Acusensus Heads-Up JR-DD1 was approved by the Governor of NSW to be used as an approved enforcement device under Section 134 of the Road Transport Act.

Mobile phone detection cameras to issue fines from March 2020

Following the trial, mobile phone detection cameras were turned on across NSW on the 1st December 2019. It was announced that during the first 3 months of operation drivers would receive warning letters only. There were no fines or loss of demerit points during this time.

From 1st March 2020 drivers caught by a mobile phone detection camera will be fined and lose 5 demerit points. The aim of Transport NSW is to have 45 mobile detection cameras by 2022-2023 capable of screening 135 million vehicles each year for illegal mobile phone use.

How do NSW mobile phone detection cameras work?

Whether fixed or mobile, the cameras are able to take high resolution images showing the front cabin space of a vehicle. The cameras can operate by day or night, in any weather, and at up to speeds of 300km/h. Every vehicle passing the camera is photographed. These photographs are then analysed by a computer using algorithms and artificial intelligence to identify mobile phone usage. Transport NSW said that the computer first checks to see if both hands are on the steering wheel. If not, the computer then begins to look for objects which have the dimensions and appearance of a mobile phone or are being held in a manner consistent with a mobile phone.

Images that do not show possible mobile phone use are deleted, usually within an hour. When the computer detects a potential offence, that image is then reviewed by an authorised officer before a penalty notice is issued. The reviewing officer only sees a cropped photograph of the driver. All other details such as registration numbers, vehicle type, location, and date are obscured.

No warning signs for mobile phone detection cameras

In NSW, fixed and mobile speed cameras are always marked with warning signs. This is a policy decision and not a legal requirement. The new mobile phone detection cameras, whether fixed or mobile, will not have any warning signs at all. In the second reading speech the Hon Andrew Constance, MP, Minister for Transport and Roads said,

I also want to be clear about the advisory signage. The Government wants everybody who backs a car out of their driveway into the road network to know that they could be caught anywhere at any time.

The absence of signage may result in more drivers using navigation apps such as Waze. These apps allow the crowd sourcing and sharing of real time locations of speed cameras, police, and now mobile phone detection cameras.

Who owns the mobile phone detection cameras?

In NSW, Acusensus have a contract to operate all mobile phone detection cameras. Acusensus is a privately owned company based in Victoria. Its’ Managing Director, Alex Jannink, previously said that he was inspired to develop the technology after a close friend of his was killed in a car accident with a driver who was on their phone at the time. In 2018, Indian company Ador Powertron, acquired a 51% share in Acusensus.

Onus of proof reversed for mobile phone detection camera offences

A driver stopped by police and fined for using a mobile phone can elect to have the matter determined by a Magistrate in the Local Court. In court proceedings the prosecution bears the onus of proving the offence beyond a reasonable doubt. 

The Road Transport Amendment (Mobile Phone Detection) Bill 2019 inserts Section 139B into the Road Transport Act. This section says that

  • If a photograph taken by an approved mobile phone detection camera shows
  • An object held by or resting on the body of a driver
  • That object is presumed to be a mobile phone
  • This presumption may be rebutted by the driver at court 

This essentially reverses the onus of proof. The driver must prove, on the balance of probabilities, that the object is not a mobile phone. The NSW Law Society opposed this amendment saying,  

The provision as proposed abrogates the prosecution’s responsibility to prove an offence and instead places an unnecessary and unfair evidentiary burden on an individual to prove that they are innocent.

There is often a long delay between the photo being taken and the fine being received. This puts drivers at a disadvantage having to remember what they were holding at the time. It is proposed however, to send mobile phone detection camera fines to registered owners within a week.

Will mobile phone detection cameras clog up the Local Courts?

As the offence carries 5 demerit points, it was argued that the provision will lead to a larger number of drivers disputing these matters in court. In many cases disputing the fine in court will be a drivers only hope to avoid a demerit point suspension. Similarly, provisional drivers who exceed their point threshold and receive suspension notices are eligible to lodge an appeal to the Local Court. These factors are likely to see an already busy Local Court facing a significant increased caseload of mobile phone penalty notices and licence suspension appeals.

Statistics before Parliament showed that in 2018 about 37,000 mobile phone fines were issued by police. About 3% of those elected to have the matter heard at court. If Transport NSW are successful in achieving their target to screen 135 million vehicles a year for mobile phone use, and the detection rate is 1.8% as in the trial, this will result in over 2.4 million penalty notices issued each year. If 3% of these elected to have their matter determined by a court, it will see over 70,000 new cases listed in the Local Court each year. Of course, the $810 million raised through payment of the other 97% of penalty notices could go some way towards the facilities to deal with the increased workload.

Locations of fixed and mobile detection cameras in NSW

Since their introduction the exact locations of mobile phone detection cameras has been widely debated on social media. The first fixed cameras used during the trial were attached to the Clunies Ross Street overpass on the M4 Motorway. Numerous ‘alleged sightings’ have been posted showing cameras designed to provide Transport NSW with live video feeds for traffic management.

Social media groups focused on the location of mobile detection cameras have quickly amassed a large number of members. Unfortunately they are highly unreliable. One Facebook group even adopted the wording “NSW Official” in its title despite being anything but official.

Ironically, one of the best ways to find the location of mobile phone detection cameras is through a mobile phone application. Waze lets drivers tag the location of speed cameras, police and mobile phone detection cameras. That information is then shared in real time with drivers approaching the area.

Existing enforcement cameras can be used to prosecute mobile phone use

The Road Transport Legislation Amendment (Road Safety) Bill 2018 commenced on 1 July 2018. This Bill made amendments to the law so that photographs from any camera that is an “approved traffic enforcement device” can now also be used to prosecute mobile phone offences. Section 139A makes photos taken by speed cameras, red light cameras, T-Way cameras, bus lane cameras, and even motorway toll cameras admissible to prove mobile phone use. These cameras are not designed to detect mobile phone use but if you are photographed for some other purpose, and happen to have a phone in your hand, you may be prosecuted. Cameras used for monitoring traffic in real time aren’t used for enforcement and therefore cannot be used to issue fines to drivers using their phones.

What to do if caught using a mobile phone?

The introduction of mobile phone detection cameras will undoubtedly see a significant rise in drivers being issued penalty notices. In September 2018, the penalties for using a mobile phone while driving were increased to 5 demerit points, doubling to 10 points if caught during double demerits. Fines are $344 or $457 if caught in a school zone.

The need to deter phone use while driving is considered so high that appealing or requesting a review of the penalty will not be successful. This is because mobile phone offences are not eligible for a caution under Revenue NSW Guidelines. This is still the case even with a 10-year clear traffic record.

As with existing camera detected offences registered owners will be able to view the photo online and also nominate someone else if they were not the driver.

If payment of the penalty notice will result in you exceeding your demerit point limit you may be able to continue driving. Unrestricted licence holders can apply for a good behaviour licence and provisional licence holders can appeal a notice of suspension. Electing to have the matter heard at court is not without risk. You should contact an experienced traffic lawyer for advice.

How do NSW mobile phone detection cameras work?

Mobile detection cameras work by taking a high resolution photo of the front cabin of every passing vehicle. Each photo is then analysed by a computer using artificial intelligence to identify mobile phone use. Where an offence is detected, the image is then checked by authorised staff prior to a penalty notice being issued.    

Where are mobile phone detection cameras located?

While there are a number of fixed mobile phone cameras the majority are portable and attached to a trailer. As they are regularly moved to new locations the best way to locate them is through an app that crowdsources this information such as Waze.

How many mobile phone detection cameras are there in NSW?

The exact number is unknown however Transport for New South Wales aim to have 45 portable mobile detection cameras by 2022 – 2023. These would be capable of screening over 135 million vehicles per year for mobile phone use.

When do mobile phone cameras start issuing penalty notices?

Mobile phone cameras were first activated in NSW in December 2019. For the first 3 months drivers were issued with a warning letter only. This doesn’t affect penalty notices issued by police or other cameras. From 1 March 2020 drivers caught by a mobile phone detection camera will receive penalty notices and incur demerit points.

Who owns and operates NSW mobile phone detection cameras?

In NSW the contract to operate mobile phone detection cameras was awarded to Victorian company Acusensus. In 2018, Indian company Ador Powertron acquired a 51% share in Acusesus.

Are there warning signs before mobile phone detection cameras?

No, when the cameras were introduced it was decided that there would be no warning signs. There is no legal requirement to have warning signs for mobile detection cameras or any other type of enforcement camera in New South Wales.

How do you defend a penalty notice from a mobile phone detection camera?

Under amendments passed in 2019 an object held by, or resting on the body of a driver, is legally presumed to be a mobile phone. The driver of the vehicle bears the onus of proof to show that the object was not a mobile phone and this must be proven on the balance of probabilities.  

Can I receive a mobile phone penalty notice from a red light camera or speed camera?

Yes, changes to the law means that if you are photographed speeding or running a red light, these photos can also be checked for mobile phone use. If the driver can also seen to be using a mobile phone they can be issued a penalty notice.

How much is the fine for using a mobile phone while driving in NSW?

The current fine for using a mobile phone in New South Wales is $344 and 5 demerit points. This increases to $457 in a school zone. During designated periods of double demerit points using a mobile phone while driving incurs 10 demerit points.

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