In recent years, driver distraction has become a significant cause of accidents and fatalities on Australian roads. To combat this growing problem, the Victorian Government has introduced new laws that aim to reduce distractions for drivers and improve road safety.
The new laws came into effect on 31 March 2023, which regulate the use of portable, wearable, mounted and in-built vehicle devices while driving. The laws extend existing mobile phone rules to cover modern technology. These laws come as part of Victoria’s Road Safety Strategy 2021-2030, which aims halve the number of deaths on Victorian roads by 2030.
Drivers with full licences
The new laws permit drivers to touch a mounted device while driving to initiate, accept or reject an audio call, play or stream audio material, adjust volume levels, use a navigation function, use a function on the device designed to assist you to operate the vehicle or monitor the driver’s behaviour or condition and carry out a professional driving task.
Drivers are prohibited from physically typing information on a device, scrolling, reading or writing messages or emails, and watching movies and videos. Under the new laws, drivers caught using a mobile phone or other electronic device illegally while driving will face fines and accrue demerit points.
For wearable devices such as a smart watch, a driver must not touch the device and may only use voice controls to initiate, accept or reject an audio call, play or stream audio material and adjust volume levels. Similarly, motorbike helmet devices may only be used for audio streaming and navigation.
Passengers are also prohibited from using an electronic device in a manner that may distract a driver. This includes showing a driver the device screen or passing a device to or from a driver while driving.
Learner and P plate drivers
The laws include the ability for learners and P plate drivers to use a mounted device for navigation or to play audio, and use a wearable device to play audio, but only if its operation has been set-up prior to the commencement of the driving journey. They may also touch an in-built vehicle device to adjust navigation settings, audio functions and climate controls.
In Victoria, using an electronic device illegally carries a fine between $555 and $1849 and four demerit points.
Impact on car manufactures
Car manufactures and dealerships should ensure they understand the changes and act accordingly. While the laws are imposed on drivers, they can also impact vehicle design and advertising. Advertising should only depict legal uses of devices. Vehicle features and in-built vehicle devices should also be designed in a way that allows drivers to legally use them.