Wallet or phone? Driver's controversial photo sparks debate

Yahoo News Staff
·3-min read

A man is standing his ground against the NSW Government after he was fined twice for holding his phone while driving - but he claims he wasn't.

Stephen Howie has copped two fines in six months after cameras snapped an object in his left hand both times, but the fed-up driver says he was holding his wallet - not his phone - on both occasions.

Last year in September, he was fined but eventually got off. This time around, the state government isn't showing any leniency.

"The technology obviously isn't up to scratch and it doesn't work," Mr Howie told A Current Affair, saying the technology is a "money grabbing thing".

Stephen Howie was fined after a mobile phone detection camera snapped him holding his wallet. Source: Facebook
Stephen Howie was fined after a mobile phone detection camera snapped him holding his wallet. Source: Facebook

The technology Mr Howie is referring to is the mobile phone detection cameras, which are utilised around NSW.

Images shared to a Facebook group show Mr Howie in his car with an item in his left hand. There appears to be a button closure hanging down, a common feature on many wallets, though they can appear on some phone cases too. 

"At the moment, it is still legal for one to hold a wallet," Mr Howie wrote on Facebook. 

"If these cameras are so freakin good, how come they can’t tell the difference?"

Several people in the comments agreed Mr Howie's phone can easily be seen in the cradle, mounted to the windscreen.

It would appear Steve Howie's phone is actually in the cradle on his windscreen and not in his hand. Source: A Current Affair/Facebook
It would appear Steve Howie's phone is actually in the cradle on his windscreen and not in his hand. Source: A Current Affair/Facebook

A Current Affair also interviewed Zubair Ghalzai, a food truck owner from Adelaide, who was fined $349 fine and five demerit points in March.

He wasn't holding a mobile phone when the camera snapped him, but was holding his cap.

When the photo was taken, he was driving to Sydney to visit his father in hospital, who was fighting for his life.

"You can't have your cap on for 16 or 17 hours … it's about 16 or 17 hour drive from here to Sydney, so every now and then I take it off and put it back on just to relax my head," he explained.

Both Mr Howie and Mr Ghalzai's fines were revoked after they were interviewed by A Current Affair.

This isn't the first time A Current Affair has covered this issue.

Steff Doney was caught allegedly holding her mobile phone to her right ear while driving southbound on the Wakehurst Parkway at Ingleside, in Sydney's north, in December last year.

She was snapped holding her hand to her face by a new portable camera and fined $349 and five demerit points.

Prior to the incident, with over 20 years of driving under her belt, Ms Doney had a clean record, according to the program.

The mobile phone detection cameras use artificial technology to catch people on their phone. Source: NSW Transport.
The mobile phone detection cameras use artificial technology to catch people on their phone. Source: NSW Transport.

What are mobile phone detection cameras?

Since the end of 2019, the NSW Government has rolled out mobile phone detection cameras, in hopes of cracking down on drivers who use their mobile illegally while behind the wheel.

There was a three-month grace period, but from March 2020, people were fined for unlawfully using their mobiles.

Unrestricted drivers are allowed to make or answer phone calls, or play audio if their mobile device can be used without touching the phone, through using hands-free or Bluetooth.

The phone must be secured in a cradle and not in the driver’s hand.

The mobile phone detection program uses artificial intelligence to detect potential offenders on NSW roads.

"Images that are automatically deemed likely to contain a mobile phone offence will be verified by appropriately-trained personnel," Road Safety NSW says. 

"Images rejected by the artificial intelligence will typically be permanently deleted within an hour of detection."

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