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Road rule changes flag limited mobile phone use

Ring in change: Proposed changes to the road rules will make it acceptable to use smartphone-based navigation services, so long as the device is out of reach.

Proposed updates drag Australia’s road laws into the mobile phone age

General News logo1 Aug 2013

AUSTRALIA’S roads watchdog wants your say on changes to road rules that will make it legal to use a smartphone in a car for navigation purposes.

The National Transport Commission has released a package of proposed amendments to national road rules – the 10th time changes to the laws have been mooted – that will help to make Australia’s road use laws more uniform between the states and territories.

One of the key changes to the laws the proposals seek is to allow drivers to refer to a mobile device that is giving navigation directions.

The NTC says it wants to amend the rule governing mobile phone use in cars “to clarify that a person may use a driver’s aid function on a mobile phone, such as a navigational device, provided that the existing requirements are met and the driver does not touch the phone to use the driver’s aid on the mobile phone while driving”.

Under the NTC’s proposal, it would be legal to use a smartphone’s satellite navigation system as long as the driver does not touch the phone. This would allow car-makers to either give the driver voice-activated control over the device, or permit the car-maker to replicate the satellite navigation service on the car’s multimedia screen.

Various other laws come in for minor tweaks to make them more sensible. One proposal is to change the requirement for a motorcyclist to keep his or her feet on the footpegs at all times, and instead recognise that a foot has to touch the ground if the bike is either slowing to a stop, or backing into a space.

Likewise, the proposed changes say a motorcyclist will be able to take both hands off the handlebars when stopped.

Another planned change in recognition that our roads are becoming increasingly clogged would make it legal to stop on a pedestrian crossing if the traffic ahead catches you out.

Shopping centre rules include making it legal to cross a single unbroken line to snare a car park on the other side of the road, and the same thing if you want to cross a painted traffic island.

The NTC also wants the legal definition of a bicycle expanded to include battery-powered versions Motoring authorities worldwide, including the US-based National Highway and Transport Safety Association are becoming increasingly concerned about the number of in-car distractions that are competing for a driver’s attention, including mobile devices.

The NHTSA last month published a set of guidelines it hopes car-makers will follow to ensure they do not make concentrating on driving more difficult than it is already.

The NTC will accept public submissions on the proposed changes until September 4.

NTC chief executive Paul Retter said the changes were based on advice from the Australian Road Rules Maintenance Group which includes representatives from road agencies and police from each of the state and territories across Australia, as well as a Commonwealth representative.

“Feedback received during the public consultation period will inform the amendment package that will be presented to the ministers from the Standing Council on Transport and Infrastructure for approval later in 2013,” Mr Retter said.

“It is important to note that, as with all of the rules amendment packages, the amendments in the 10th package will only take effect once they are approved by SCOTI and are adopted into the law of each state and territory.” The national framework for Australian road rules were introduced in 1999 and contain the basic rules of the road for motorists, motorcyclists, cyclists, pedestrians, passengers and other road --and footpath – users, including posties.

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