The Courier-Mail

Double demerit crackdown on phone-using drivers

- TOM SNOWDON BRITTANY VONOW

THE driver behind the wheel was already dead by the time police arrived at the scene. At their feet lay a mobile phone, a half-typed text message on the screen.

The car, lying in a crumpled heap against a tree, was completely destroyed. The driver likely died on impact.

This has become a familiar scene for many police who attend road traffic crashes. Inspector Mark Henderson can recall several such incidents.

“We had one on the Sunshine Coast Motorway a few years ago where a young woman had a headon collision while she was texting,” he said. “Her phone was sitting in the car at the scene by her feet with a half-typed text message. It’s quite common. It’s probably more common than the general public realise.”

It’s become so common that Brisbane forensic crash unit boss Senior Sergeant Simon Lamerton said most officers now search for a mobile phone when they arrive at a traffic crash.

“It’s routine for us to now look at the phones and go through them,” Sen-Sgt Lamerton said. “We have a machine that allows us to look into the phones and download them.”

In a bid to stem crashes caused by drivers on mobile phones, Main Roads Minister Mark Bailey has announced repeat offenders will lose double demerit points from today.

“Tha

t means a $353 fine and six demerit points deducted,” Mr Bailey said.

However, the minister confirmed the fine will remain the same whether it is a first or second offence.

“We didn’t double the fine because we didn’t want this to be about revenue,” Mr Bailey said. “This is about changing behaviour.”

A report commission­ed by the Department of Transport and Main Roads shows people need to

change behaviours.

The study revealed 69 per cent of Queensland­ers confessed to “using their mobile phone in the car at least occasional­ly”.

Most of the use was found to be people texting at traffic lights, with 45 per cent of respondent­s putting their hand up for the offence. Another 21 per cent admitted to texting while driving, and they’re getting harder to catch.

The 2009-10 financial year netted the most offenders, according to the government figures, with 29,210 motorists caught.

This has dropped almost every year since to 23,671 people busted with their phone at the wheel last year. There were 17,870 people caught to last April.

Road policing Acting Assistant Commission­er Dale Pointon (inset) told The Courier-Mail motorists using their mobile phone while driving were getting “more cunning about how they go about it”.

“It could be that more people are texting than actually talking on their phones, so it’s harder to detect,” Mr Pointon said.

RACQ technical and safety policy manager Steve Spalding said many motorists tried to hide their behaviour by keeping the phone low, but “it’s glaringly obvious” what they are doing.

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