Is it illegal to mount a phone (or smartwatch) on the windscreen?
Can you mount and charge your phone on the windscreen in a car to make calls and use navigation? How about using a smartwatch?
A recent incident involving a motorist in Victoria has sparked the question if it is actually illegal to charge and/or mount a mobile phone on a vehicle windscreen.
The question comes about as many believe it is legal to do both, however, it is reported that during an incident the driver was told the phone charging in a device mount on the windscreen was not.
According to the law in every state and territory in Australia, you cannot hold a mobile phone while driving. As for using a phone when in a device mount, it isn’t entirely straight cut according to the letter of the law – but it is pretty simple when using common sense.
We’ll get to what the mobile phone rules are, but quite simply, the phone can be mounted on the windscreen but only if it doesn’t obstruct vision. So you don’t put the phone in a holder in front of you with the cord dangling out of it, for instance. The same can be true of a big pair of fluffy dice – this could obstruct the vision of things like pedestrians and other motorists turning onto the road.
So while you might not think you’re illegally using the phone in the essence of it being in a holder, it might be obstructing your view, which is not allowed.
Learners, P1 and P2 drivers
Any learners or provisional driver must not at any time use a mobile phone while driving. This includes when stationary and even if the phone is in a holder legally mounted off the windscreen. This includes their passengers, which can’t use the loud speaker function to make a call, for instance.
The basic point here is that learners and provisional drivers should be wholly engaged with the act of driving and not distracted by talking to someone over the phone.
Fully licensed drivers
According to VicRoads, and mostly echoed by other state and territory authorities:
“A fully licensed driver can use a phone to make or receive a phone call, to use its audio/music functions or perform a navigational (GPS) or intelligent highway vehicle system (in vehicle warning system) function but only if the phone:
- is secured in a commercially designed holder fixed to the vehicle, or
- can be operated by the driver without touching any part of the phone, and the phone is not resting on any part of the driver’s body.
All other functions (including video calls, texting, emailing, task management, photography, social media, shopping and share economy apps) are prohibited.”
This states that a phone holder, that is produced to a quality standard (it won’t fall apart and send the phone across the dash, for instance) is allowed. The key is that it is not distracting – so it must be placed in a suitable position. And if charging, the cord can’t be distracting or dangling about, like flapping on the steering wheel.
The Victorian police website further states:
“It is illegal to use a hands-free phone whilst driving if it causes you to lose proper control of your vehicle. The penalty is a significant fine and demerit points.
Although a hands-free device can reduce the physical effort to make and receive calls, it does not necessarily make phone use safer while driving. Consider the following suggestions if you must talk on a hands-free phone whilst driving:
- make sure the hands-free function is set up and working before you start driving
- keep conversations short
- do not engage in complex or emotional conversations
- explain to your caller that you are driving and arrange a better time to speak with them
- if it is distracting you from driving, end the call”
So we suggest that drivers er on the side of caution when mounting a mobile phone, ensuring that both it and the cord is not a distraction.
Smartwatches can be used but only when not worn, and only for:
- driver’s aid (for example, as a navigation device)
- music player
- mobile phone to make or receive phone calls
So for a smartwatch to be used, it must not be worn and must in a holder:
“Smartwatches can also be used if the driver does not touch anything on the Smartwatch (for example, making and receiving calls needs to be hands-free via Bluetooth or similar means), and that it is secured in a commercially designed mounting affixed to the vehicle (this may be unavailable).”
This is only a guide according to information we obtained from Australian road authorities at the time of writing. As always, use due diligence and check local rules and laws that may apply to you.
As for what to do, the use of a phone mount is not as clear cut as holding a mobile phone – which has been completely outlawed by every state and territory. Mounting a phone in a device mount on the windscreen has not currently been explicitly banned.
So a hands-free device can be used, but there are restrictions and rules to follow, such as it being of sound construction and not being in a distracting location.