WA introduces new $1000 fine for text driving

The WA Government has announced harsh new penalties for using mobile phones while driving. From July 1 2020, anyone caught texting, emailing, using social media, watching videos or accessing the internet while behind the wheel will be hit with the $1,000 fine and four demerit points.

The new penalty is more than double the current $400 fine and means WA drivers will face the equal-harshest penalty in Australia for the offence. Motorists caught touching their mobile phone when stopped at traffic lights, or talking on their phone while holding the handset, will be fined $500 and receive three demerit points.

The increased penalties come after 31 people were killed on WA roads in 2019 as a result of inattention, which includes mobile phone use. Almost 12,000 motorists were caught by WA Police using their mobile phones behind the wheel in 2019.

WA Police Minister Michelle Roberts said the higher fines would send a strong message to drivers who engaged in "deliberate risk-taking behaviour".The State Government said the distinction between different types of phone use borrowed from the approach taken in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.

But the penalties in those states are not as harsh, with the $1,000 fines in WA and Queensland nearly double the next highest among Australian states and territories. The Northern Territory has the lowest fine at $250.

Ms Roberts did not point to any specific evidence to prove the fine increase would be effective in reducing mobile phone usage among drivers, but said WA had fallen behind compared to penalties imposed elsewhere in Australia. The RAC welcomed the increased penalties for what it called a "major epidemic on our roads".

"Our concern is that there are a lot of blindfolded drivers, so [we need] a mix of more enforcement, better education and also the community understanding the consequences of what they're doing," RAC general manager corporate affairs Will Goldsby said. But Mr Goldsby called for more information about where the extra revenue from the fines would go.

Road Safety Council chairman Iain Cameron said drivers were best to keep their phones out of reach to avoid the temptation to check them. Mr Cameron said attitudes around mobile phone use and driving would not change overnight, but the new fines were an important step in raising the danger they posed.