Covert motorcycle police have caught almost 630 motorists flouting mobile phone laws in less than three weeks of the enforcement strategy being launched.
Uniformed officers on unmarked motorbikes pull up alongside drivers and film their behaviour on helmet cameras, before calling in a colleague on a marked motorcycle to issue an infringement notice.
Police say the covert fleet is proving a valuable tool to spot those breaking the law and they charged 628 drivers with using hand-held mobiles and another 147 with not wearing seatbelts, between December 20 and last Monday. Insp. Ian Clarke said the figures represented a 50 per cent jump in the number of mobile phone offences and double the number of seatbelt infringements detected by police motorcycle patrols in the same period last year.
Road Safety Council chairman Murray Lampard said the figures showed a big percentage of drivers were consciously flouting the laws and Insp. Clarke said it highlighted the dangers of using a hand-held phone while driving.
"The fact that a police officer in uniform, albeit on an unmarked motorcycle, can ride up beside somebody and film them and they don't even notice because they are so consumed in their phone conversation overwhelmingly highlights the fact that they are not paying attention to their driving," Insp. Clarke said.
"That makes them a hazard to other motorists, themselves and their passengers."
Professor Lampard said distracted drivers accounted for about one-third of all serious crashes.
"Research has proved that there can be disastrous results when you take your eyes off the road, even for a split second," he said.
Police say there is anecdotal evidence that the trial is already having an effect, with the public increasingly conscious that any motorcyclist could be a police officer. They hope it will discourage people from using phones behind the wheel.
Road Safety Minister Liza Harvey said she was not surprised police had charged more drivers for mobile phone use during the trial but warned motorists that texting while driving was extremely dangerous.
"I'm also disappointed that the basic message about wearing a seatbelt is still not getting through to all drivers," she said.
Drivers caught using mobile phones were issued $250 fines and three demerit points, adding $157,000 to State Government coffers.
Police revealed they had caught 988 unlicensed drivers and charged 389 motorists with drink-driving during Operation Crossroad, the Christmas and New Year traffic campaign.
Patrolling officers caught 4935 drivers speeding, while another 13,378 were detected by speed cameras.