Mobile Phone Detection Cameras

1. Why is the NSW Government implementing this program?

  • The Mobile Phone Detection Camera Program is a component of the overall strategy to achieve the Government’s target of reducing road fatalities and serious injuries by 30 per cent by 2021 (compared to 2008-2010 levels), and to zero by 2056.
  • Automated, camera-based enforcement, coupled with police enforcement, has played a critical role in addressing other high-risk behaviours on our roads such as speeding and red light running. These camera programs have proven to help prevent crashes and reduce road trauma.
  • The pilot program, which tested the camera technology from January to June 2019 in both fixed and transportable (or trailer mounted) modes, proved the technology was able to operate with high reliability in real world conditions. The cameras produced clear images in all weather and light conditions, and exceeded expectations related to the handling, storage and security of data.
  • During the pilot more than 100,000 drivers were found to be using a mobile phone illegally.
  • Independent modelling by Monash University Accident Research Centre (MUARC) estimates that the program will contribute to a reduction in road trauma of approximately 100 fatal and serious injury crashes over a five-year period.
  • There is strong community support for using cameras to enforce illegal mobile phone use by motorists.
  • A community survey commissioned by Transport for NSW was completed early April 2018, after laws were tabled in NSW Parliament to permit use of the technology. Three quarters (74 per cent) of those surveyed supported the use of cameras to enforce mobile phone offences.
  • A further survey was undertaken in May 2019, during the pilot, and found the level of support had increased to 80 per cent.

2. How is the camera program being rolled out?

  • The first cameras began operating on 1 December 2019, with warning letters being issued for the first three months. During this time, drivers caught using their phones illegally will be sent a warning letter to encourage them to change their behaviour.
  • Transport for NSW will manage the program. Acusensus has been engaged to deliver, install and maintain the camera technology. Penalty notices will be issued by Revenue NSW, in a similar way to other camera fines.
  • The program will be expanded over three years (from 2019/20 to 2022/23) with a target of more than 135 million annual vehicle checks by 2022/23. To help reach this target, it is anticipated that approximately 45 cameras will be operating across NSW, incorporating both fixed and transportable units.

3. How does the technology work?

  • The mobile phone detection camera system has been developed following a global search for the best available technology.
  • The system incorporates a number of cameras and an infra-red flash to capture clear images of passing vehicles in all traffic and weather conditions.
  • Artificial intelligence software analyses each image to determine those most likely to display illegal mobile phone use, as well as those with no evidence of illegal mobile phone use.
  • Images that are automatically deemed likely to contain a mobile phone offence will be verified by appropriately-trained personnel. Images rejected by the artificial intelligence will typically be deleted within an hour of detection and without being viewed.
  • Both fixed and transportable versions of the cameras use the same camera technology.

4. Is the system completely automated or does a human check the images?

  • The artificial intelligence software automatically reviews images and detects potential offending drivers, and excludes images of non-offending drivers from further action.
  • An authorised adjudicator will always check images to confirm that illegal mobile phone use has occurred before issuing a penalty notice.
  • This process is similar to other camera enforcement programs in NSW. All speeding and red-light offences that are captured by cameras automatically are adjudicated to verify details within the images, including number plates, before a penalty notice is issued.
  • The system has been designed to include strict security requirements. This includes ensuring that all images captured by the cameras that do not contain evidence of an offence are rapidly and permanently deleted.

5. Is this really a world-first program?

  • NSW is the first state in Australia to prove this technology works and implement a statewide camera program.
  • On a global scale, Transport for NSW is not aware of any other jurisdiction that has introduced automated camera technology to detect and enforce illegal mobile phone use.
  • Technology will continue to play a key role in delivering safer travel, consistent with the Future Transport vision of a trauma-free transport network by 2056.
  • Partnership with industry and early adoption has enabled NSW to rapidly develop and validate this cutting-edge technology.

6. How will privacy be protected?

  • Transport for NSW and Revenue NSW, the agencies responsible for the management and administration of camera programs and fines, have strict obligations to ensure the personal information of NSW road users is protected in accordance with statutory requirements.
  • Transport for NSW undertook consultation with the NSW Privacy Commissioner during the pilot and discussions have continued to ensure compliance with privacy principles.
  • The program will ensure only the minimum amount of data required to detect and enforce offences is retained.
  • Images captured by cameras will be reviewed automatically by artificial intelligence software; those which do not contain evidence of an offence will be permanently and irretrievably deleted, typically within an hour.
  • When a potential offence is detected, images will be pixellated and cropped before the images are adjudicated, prior to a decision being made to issue a penalty notice.
  • In common with all NSW traffic camera enforcement systems, strict data security measures are included in the scope of requirements for the program.

7. Where will the data be stored?

  • All personal information is stored securely in Australia and handled in accordance with strict security requirements.
  • As for other NSW camera enforcement programs, the camera contractor is required, and bound by law, to adhere to strict privacy and security requirements.  Regular audits of these requirements are part of the program.

8. What criteria will be used to determine camera locations? How many in metropolitan areas and how many regional areas?

  • The cameras operate in locations that meet one or more criteria and ensure geographical spread of deterrence. Criteria will include prevalence of crashes or relevant crash types and advice from NSW Police, including locations that may be difficult to enforce using existing police resources.
  • The program aims to reach close to 100 percent of the NSW driving population through a mix of metropolitan and regional deployments.
  • The program will be expanded over three years and the distribution between regional and metro deployments will be finalised during this period.

9. What is the penalty for being caught for illegal mobile phone use?

  • The fine for illegal mobile phone use is $344, or $457 if detected in a school zone. There is a five-demerit-point penalty for illegal mobile phone use, which increases to 10 demerit points during double-demerit periods.
  • These fines and demerit point penalties apply to both camera-detected offences and infringements issued by NSW Police.
  • Warning letters will be issued for three months from 1 December 2019, during which time drivers caught using their phones illegally will be sent a warning letter to encourage them to change their behaviour.
  • Fines and demerit points will be issued to drivers who commit an offence after the three-month warning period has ended.
  • Fines and demerit points issued as part of on-road police enforcement of illegal mobile phone use will continue to apply as usual.
  • As with the current speed and red light camera programs, every cent from mobile phone detection camera fines will go directly into the Community Road Safety Fund and be reinvested in important road safety initiatives such as road safety education in schools, flashing lights in school zones and safety infrastructure like audio tactile line markings, crash barriers and vehicle-activated signs on high risk curves.

10. How long after an offence will penalty notices be issued?

  • Penalty notices will typically be issued within a week of an offence being committed. As per current availability for camera-detected speeding and red-light offences in NSW, the recipient of the penalty notice will be able to review, via the Revenue NSW website, the image of the offence depicting the illegal mobile phone use.

11. What if I’m the registered operator of the vehicle but was not driving at the time of the offence?

  • As with speed and red light camera offences, the legislation allows the registered operator (owner) of the vehicle to nominate the person responsible for the offence.

12. How is the community being informed about the cameras?

  • Comprehensive information has been made available online and will be supported by public education across a range of communication channels.
  • Transport for NSW will use Variable Message Signs (VMS) and install fixed signs on key routes to ensure that drivers are aware of camera-based enforcement of mobile phone offences.
  • A public education campaign across broadcast channels such as television, radio, social media and outdoor channels will communicate the commencement of camera operations during the three-month warning period, as well as the commencement of penalties once the warning period has ended.
  • Transport for NSW’s Centre for Road Safety website will provide additional information about the road rules, the camera program and the road safety risk associated with illegal mobile phone use.

13. What are the risks are of using a mobile phone while driving?

  • Driving is a complex activity; anything that takes your hands off the wheel, eyes off the road or mind off the driving task is dangerous, not just for you, but everyone else on the road.
  • Being distracted when driving, such as by a mobile phone, increases the risk of a crash. Simply taking your eyes off the road for longer than two seconds, doubles the risk of a crash.
  • Research has found that mobile phone use while driving is associated with at least a four-fold increase in the risk of having a casualty crash, while texting increases the crash risk even further.

14. How many people are injured in road crashes where mobile phone use is a factor?

  • In NSW since 2012, there have been 182 casualty crashes involving a driver/rider using a hand held mobile phone – resulting in 13 deaths and 243 injuries. This is based on preliminary data available as at 28 November 2019.
  • Of those, 90 casualty crashes occurred in country NSW – resulting in 11 deaths and 112 injuries.
  • However, the contribution of mobile phone distraction to road trauma is underreported due to difficulties with obtaining conclusive evidence at crash scenes..

Illegal mobile phone use

All other functions including video calling, texting, emailing, social media, web browsing and photography are prohibited unless parked.

It is also illegal to hold and use a mobile phone at any time while driving or riding.

Using a Digital Driver Licence

It’s illegal to access your Digital Driver Licence when driving, including when stationary, unless you’re asked to do so by a police officer. Penalties apply.

Learner, P1 and P2 licence holders

Restricted licences holders including learner, P1 and P2 drivers and riders are not permitted to use their phone at all while driving or riding. This includes use of hands-free and Bluetooth functions.

Illegal mobile phone use will result in heavy penalties including demerit points and fines, which could mean the loss of your licence.

Tip: Avoid temptation and keep your phone in your bag or glovebox.

Unrestricted licence holders and all bicycle riders

Full licence holders and bicycle riders are permitted to use particular mobile phone functions. These include making or answering a phone call, or playing audio, if the phone:

  • Is secured in a cradle; or
  • Can be used without touching any part of the phone (e.g. Bluetooth).

This also includes using a mobile phone as a driver’s aid (e.g. navigation) if the phone is secured in a cradle.

Tip: Using a mobile phone legally can still be distracting. Consider the traffic conditions before using your phone.

Mobile phone detection cameras

The mobile phone detection camera program enforcing illegal mobile phone use by drivers commenced on 1 December 2019.

The program includes fixed and transportable cameras that operate at locations across the network. Coupled with ongoing enforcement by NSW Police, these cameras target illegal mobile phone use anywhere, anytime.

Warning letters relating to camera-detected offences will be issued for the first three months. Following this period, the penalty for offending drivers is five demerit points and a $344 fine ($457 in a school zone). The penalty increases to 10 demerit points during double demerit periods.