Driver hit with $387 fine for 'using a phone' awarded $4000: 'Don't accept that'

Merridy Gordon was caught my a mobile detection camera but her lawyer unleashed on NSW transport authorities.

Merridy Gordon with banana bread on her lap on mobile speed detection cameras in NSW.
TfNSW supplied this photo to lawyer Merridy Gordon, claiming she was on her phone. When in actual fact, the item on her lap was a piece of banana bread, seen nestled behind an E-tag. Source: Supplied

A lawyer has unleashed on transport authorities after she was fined $387 and lost 10 demerit points for "using a phone" behind the wheel — only, the "square object" picked up by cameras was in fact not any kind of device, but rather a fresh piece of banana bread.

Sydney woman Merridy Gordon said she was driving home from Canberra along the M5 in January when mobile detection cameras apparently detected her using her phone behind the wheel. Weeks later in February she received a notice in the mail informing her that she'd been slugged with the fine, and due to the public holiday, would attract a loss of a whopping 10 demerit points.

Confused, Gordon said she quickly jumped online onto the Transport for NSW (TfNSW) website to check what exactly the cameras had picked up. She said after enlarging the pictures, it was immediately apparent that the item in her lap was a tasty snack, and not her phone.

A copy of the infringement Merridy Gordon received from TfNSW, ordering her to pay $387.
Gordon was ordered to pay $387 and attracted a loss of 10 demerit points before she took the case to court and eventually had the infringement thrown out. Source: Supplied

"My phone's got a green case and it was tucked down the side of the seat," Gordon told Yahoo News Australia. "My hand was on a square object, too. So I thought 'what the heck is my hand on? I was thinking about it and then I got the photos enlarged and that's when I realised. I thought 'no, that's banana bread, which I bought in Canberra before I left to come home to Sydney'."

Gordon said she wrote to TfNSW and explained the situation, that her phone was clearly down the side of the console and the item in her lap was distinctly square, not rectangular-shaped like almost every smartphone nowadays.

"They pretty much said 'too bad, so sad, don't care' and that I'd have to take the matter to court," Gordon recalled. "So I elected to go to court, and I had to go to Campbelltown because it was on the M5."

Gordon recalled that immediately after presenting the magistrate with the photos he said "it was clear to me" that "mobile phones were rectangular, and that's clearly not rectangular, what she has a hand on" and "I can see the phone down the side'".

 A copy of the infringement Merridy Gordon received from TfNSW, ordering her to pay $387.
According to the magistrate overseeing Gordon's case, TfNSW must 'prove beyond reasonable doubt' the item in her lap was a phone, which she said, he wasn't satisfied they had. Source: Supplied

"The guy from TfNSW said 'well we don't accept that, we think it looks a bit thin to be banana bread' — which is just a stupid thing to say'," Gordon said, adding that she was told she no longer "had to prove anything" despite offering up further records in her defence.

Gordon said the magistrate then told her "the department has to prove beyond reasonable doubt that you were on the phone, and I've got a doubt". Requesting her legal fees be compensated, Gordon explained she at first "wrote TfNSW a letter before coming here, explaining what had happened".

"That's when he got really irate and said to TfNSW 'your institution has a responsibility to look at these photographs properly, it's clear from the photographs there's a significant doubt about whether she was holding a phone'.

"The magistrate said to TfNSW, 'Ms Gordon clearly wrote you a sensible letter and you just ignored it'."

TfNSW was ordered to pay Gordon's legal fees worth $4,000. Her fine was dismissed and demerit points reinstated. "My issue is with institutions, government departments, whether they're banks, whatever, they just run roughshod over people — and they don't care," she said.

Court documents seen by Yahoo News Australia confirm that TfNSW was ordered to reimburse Gordon to the tune of $4,000 by August 1 of this year.

Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, Sally Webb, Deputy Secretary for Safety, Environment and Regulation, said Transport for NSW would not comment specifically on the case, but she defended the mobile phone detection camera program, saying it is "a key initiative to achieve the government’s target of zero road fatalities by 2056."

"Automated, camera-based enforcement, coupled with police enforcement, has played a critical role in addressing other high-risk behaviours on our roads such as speeding and red light running. These camera programs are proven to help prevent crashes and reduce road trauma," she told Yahoo.

"All suspected mobile phone offences detected by the cameras and software system are checked by trained and authorised personnel before an infringement is issued. It is rare for misidentification to happen. There are a number of checks and balances in place including reviews by both Transport for NSW and Revenue NSW. If it is determined that a fine should stand as an outcome of these review processes, a driver may elect to have the matter dealt with at court."

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