HUNTER state MPs have backed a NSW government proposal to use detection cameras on roads throughout the state in order to curb motorists using mobile phones behind the wheel.
The Road Transport Amendment (Mobile Phone Detection) Bill 2019 was introduced by Roads Minister Andrew Constance late last month.
If passed as expected in the next sitting of parliament, it will allow cameras to record the offence of a phone being "held by, or resting on, the driver of a vehicle".
The government wants to roll out 45 fixed and portable cameras in NSW by December. Unlike speed cameras, there will be no signs to warn motorists of their locations.
It comes after a trial in Sydney where two cameras captured more than 100,000 drivers using mobile phones illegally in six months.
"We have to unfortunately use the element of surprise to get people to think 'well, I could get caught at any time'," Roads Minister Andrew Constance said.
"I want behaviour to change and I want it changed immediately. It's not about revenue raising; it's about saving lives."
The government is yet to decide if the Hunter will be allocated cameras, but Wallsend MP Sonia Hornery hopes one will be used on the "hot spot" stretch of road from Wallsend to Newcastle.
"People are telling me that Thomas Street, Newcastle Road and Griffiths Road are particularly bad for mobile phone use," she said.
"The RMS are telling me this is the hot spot for low speed accidents in the Wallsend electorate and have indicated phone use is a key factor in many accidents. It is important that we take steps to improve road safety."
Charlestown MP Jodie Harrison said she would "probably" support the bill but had concerns about the images the cameras take.
"Because the cameras take a photo of everyone while they are driving, I am concerned about the use of the data ... given that photos will be taken of drivers from neck to knee," she said.
"I would be concerned if a breach ... occurred ... considering that the cameras will be collecting data on people who have not committed any offence."
Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper said as a motorcycle rider, he knew how bad and dangerous the problem was.
"I see it on the freeway, on local back roads and at just about every set of traffic lights I stop at," he said.
"I know some people have called this proposal revenue raising but that's a stupid argument because the government raises nothing if people do the right thing.
"The costs of people crashing and dying on our roads for the sake of a Snapchat or Facebook post is of far greater concern to me.
Newcastle MP Tim Crakanthorp said mobile phone use while driving was "something constituents have raised with me" and a behaviour that "appears to be on the increase".
"I support initiatives that improve road safety, but, like speed cameras, I believe there should be warning signs in place to drive home the safety message to motorists," he said.