THERE is no excuse for using a mobile phone while driving. The statistics are clear: it is a distraction that substantially undermines the user's ability to drive safely.
This is intuitive enough. Operating heavy machinery while eyes and attention are focused elsewhere certainly sounds like a recipe for disaster. Due to arrive by December, the cameras have support from Hunter MPs. But the state government's plan to roll out cameras to detect drivers swiping behind the wheel in the Hunter and beyond has been met with ire due to the absence of warning signs where they operate.
Now, indications it could create a different type of crisis. A NSW upper house report has found that, at present rates of court challenges to infringements, the cameras could lead to 2.4 million fines arriving.
"Even if just 3 per cent of these were challenged in the Local Court ... this would see some 72,900 cases filed," the report notes, adding that "this program runs the risk of overwhelming the local court".
A pilot program conducted over three months this year in Sydney found 1.2 per cent of the 8.5 million drivers photographed were using their phones. The rate was slightly higher at fixed cameras.
Transport of NSW claims $88 million earmarked in forward estimates would help cover roll-out costs including additional resources for the court system.
The goal is a noble one, and one that would likely make our roads substantially safer. But if the cost will achieve that benefit at the expense of an already-straining justice system, it perhaps deserves further consideration.
In April last year, after Federal Circuit Court Judge Steve Middleton's transfer to Townsville was announced, legal experts flagged a workload that was double the national average and "dangerous delays" as a consequence.
That is not a court that would hear these matters, of course. But it illustrates the impact changes can have on staff and those who are party to matters before the courts.
Of course, the fact that a large proportion of drivers would likely breach the road rules is no reason not to proceed with enforcement. It is simply a question of how prepared the government is to deal with the number of cases it estimates it could face.
How that potential influx will be handled will require good judgement from authorities before the first fines are posted.