Thousands of drivers caught by NSW mobile phone detection cameras have avoided accruing demerit points through the use of a “dangerous loophole," according to the NSW Shadow Minister for Roads, John Graham.
Mr Graham told CarAdvice motorists do not receive license penalties if their offence is referred to a company that does not identify them.
Instead, in such circumstances, the standard $349 fine is increased to $1745 (five times the nominal amount), while the five demerit point penalty is waived.
The loophole means some drivers may have paid a premium to avoid losing their licence, and authorities are concerned unsafe drivers are not being banned from the roads.
Figures show eight per cent of motorists caught on camera while using a mobile phone have exploited the loophole by not nominating a driver, because the vehicle was registered to a company. The businesses reportedly claim they didn't keep track of who was driving at the time.
According to the Sydney Morning Herald, which first exposed this loophole, 43,000 fines amounting to $19 million were issued within the past two months of operation.
Of this, $6 million was amassed as a result of companies paying the increased fine after failing to nominate a driver.
A spokesperson for Transport NSW told CarAdvice they can, and do, prosecute companies who fail to identify the offending driver.
However, Shadow Minister John Graham says he has seen no evidence of this.
“This is being abused – that’s my genuine view – and we’ve called on the government to release details [that show] if there is any enforcement going on," Mr Graham told CarAdvice.
“The concern is that there's a lot of money flying into government coffers – millions of dollars – as a result of these fines. That is one of the reasons why there hasn't been a lot of discussion about this problem.
“Drivers are dodging the points and the government's getting the money, so it feels like no one wants to talk about this for that reason.”
Mr Graham has since referred the matter to the NSW Auditor-General.
CarAdvice contacted the office of the NSW Minister for Transport and Roads, Andrew Constance, who declined to comment on the controversy.
However, Mr Constance has publicly defended the effectiveness of mobile phone detection cameras.
According to the Minister, when the cameras were trialled, one in every 85 motorists was using their mobile phone while driving. That number has since dropped to one in every 420 since fines began being issued.
Russell White, the founder and managing director of Driver Safety Australia, told CarAdvice mobile phone use while driving represents a significant and often-trivialised danger.
“It needs to be stated from the outset that it’s one of the greatest risk factors we’ve got in terms of road safety,” said Mr White.
“Mobile phones came into our lives so quickly that the full impact of the road trauma was never properly assessed. Now, there’s clear data that says that – even in trials I’ve been involved with at the university level here in Australia – when you engage with a mobile phone it takes you from being broad and externally focused, to being narrow and internally focused.”
An NRMA study from 2017 found using a mobile phone while driving is associated with a four-fold increase in the risk of having an accident – comparable to low- and mid-range drink driving.