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Get your hand off it: Australian law on phone use in the car

You know you shouldn't use your mobile when driving, but where do the Australian state and territory laws stand on the matter?

Western Australia has introduced holiday double demerit point penalties for using a phone while driving. We know it's illegal, but where do you stand on a state-by-state breakdown of the law?

A 2011 study of road accidents in New South Wales and Victoria found that only 0.9 per cent were attributed to using a mobile phone, but with more and more Australians using smartphones, this number could easily rise.

In the United States, recent research from the Center for Disease Control found that driver distraction kills 9 people and injures a further 1060 people on American roads every day. Although driver distraction isn't just defined as mobile phone use (eating and the use of "in-vehicle technologies" such as navigation systems are also bundled into this category), it's still a sobering statistic.

There are a number of public awareness campaigns across the country trying to call drivers up on their use of phones in the car, including the cheeky "Get Your Hand Off It" campaign from Transport NSW, but there are some drivers who will only get the message if they get busted.

So, with that in mind, here's how said busting goes down across Australia. All the fines are listed in a delightful pecuniary currency known as "penalty units". Each unit is worth a certain amount, set by individual state governments (we've linked to the info for each state). For more details on the state laws, head to the Keep Your Eyes on the Road website, which lists the laws and links for more detail.

In each case, we've listed the maximum possible penalty that you could be hit with for the breaking the law. Speaking with a number of state authorities, police won't hit you with a fine of several thousand dollars if it's your first offence — you're more likely to cop a fine in the order of $300 or $400, plus the loss of demerit points. However, state police that we spoke to said that if the driver is a "habitual offender" or if it's part of a string of offences, the higher penalties can be imposed by a court.

QLD

Drivers are not permitted to use a hand-held phone whilst driving or when the car is stationary (but not parked), including texting, calling or operating any phone function. Furthermore, it's illegal for P1 drivers to use their phone, even when they're at traffic lights, and they'll cop a ticket and 3 demerit points if they're found using a hand-held mobile while driving. P1 drivers under 25 are also not permitted to use hands-free, wireless headsets or loudspeaker functions.

Maximum Penalty: 20 Penalty Units = $2200.

Standard Fine: $330 and 3 demerit points.

NSW

The regulations are lengthy, but drivers can't use any function of the phone while driving, and can only make hands-free calls if the mobile is fixed in a dedicated mount or if there's no need to touch it. Learner and P1 drivers can't use their phone at all, and the penalty is a fine and 3 demerit points (or 4 if you're in a school zone).

Maximum Penalty: 20 Penalty Units = $2200.

Standard Fine: $304 and three demerit points, or $405 and four demerits in a school zone.

ACT

The same hands-free rules from NSW apply here, including 3 demerit points and a $2,200 fine. Even emergency phone calls are not exempt.

Maximum Penalty: 20 Penalty Units = $2200.

Standard Fine: $337 and 3 demerit points.

VIC

Calls are only allowed if the phone is in a mount or you don't need to touch the device. Learner, P1 and P2 drivers are prohibited from using a phone, even for hands-free calls, audio or navigation.

Maximum Penalty: 10 Penalty Units = $1443.60.

Standard Fine: $433 and 4 demerit points.

TAS

Calls are only allowed if the phone is in a mount or you don't need to touch the device.

Maximum Penalty: 5 Penalty Units = $650.

Standard Fine: $300 and 3 demerit points.

SA

Calls are only allowed if the phone is in a mount or you don't need to touch the device. Wearable hands-free devices, such as Bluetooth headsets, are also okay.

Maximum Penalty: Specific penalties are not mentioned in South Australia's Road Traffic Act 1961, but when this is the case, the fine is capped at $2500.

Standard Fine: $360 — including a $300 fine as well as what South Australia calls a "victims of crime levy" of $60 — and 3 demerit points.

WA

Calls are only allowed if the phone is in a mount or you don't need to touch the device. Text messaging is also called out for particular mention (3 demerit points and a $250 fine) as is using a GPS device that isn't integrated into the car or secured in a mount (3 demerit points and a $100 fine).

Maximum Penalty: $250 and 3 demerit points (this doubles during holiday periods and on long weekends).

NT

Calls are only allowed if the phone is in a mount or if the device is "remotely operated". Texting, emailing and video calls are prohibited, and drivers can only touch the keypad if the phone is fixed to the vehicle.

Maximum Penalty: $250 and 3 demerit points.

Okay, there is a lot of legislation in there, but as your reward here's a great video from Transport NSW.