Apps shown on a mobile phone (file image)
Queensland's rules on phone use while driving has some people worried passengers can also be fined. Image by Bianca De Marchi/AAP PHOTOS

Queensland hasn’t curbed car passengers using mobile phones

AAP FactCheck November 18, 2021

It is illegal for a front-seat passenger to use a mobile phone in a moving vehicle in Queensland.


Mostly False. There is no law preventing passengers from using mobiles, although the driver can be fined if the screen is visible to them.

Queensland earlier this year introduced stricter rules around phone use while driving, including installing cameras to detect drivers using mobiles. After a three-month warning period, fines started on November 1.

A widely shared Facebook post claims it is now illegal in the state for a front-seat passenger to use a mobile while travelling in a car – but police and transport officials say no such law exists.

The November 12 post, purportedly from a Brisbane Uber driver, claims passengers could face a $1033 fine and demerit points for using their phone while travelling in a car under Queensland’s traffic legislation.

A screenshot of the Facebook post
 The Facebook post claims it is illegal for a front-seat passenger to use a mobile phone in a car. 

“This isn’t a joke. All my Uber customers have informed me of this”, it says.

However, the post appears to be a misreading of Queensland’s new road rules. There is no law banning passengers from using phones, although fines may apply for a driver if they are distracted by a passenger’s mobile screen.

A Queensland government website states the new rules make it “illegal to hold a mobile phone in your hand or have it resting on any part of your body, such as your lap, when driving”.

Learner and P1 provisional drivers under 25 cannot “use hands-free, wireless headsets or a mobile phone’s loudspeaker function” or use a phone in any way including “touching it, looking at it or operating it with your voice”.

Those caught using their phone while driving may get a $1033 fine and four demerit points, with additional penalties for those on provisional licences.

Passengers of learner and P1 drivers are also banned from using a mobile phone’s loudspeaker function or they risk receiving a fine.

Section 299 of Queensland’s road rules also states it is illegal to have a “television receiver or visual display unit” that is “visible to the driver from the normal driving position” or “likely to distract another driver”. The rule doesn’t apply for devices such as mobile phones when used for navigation, as long as they are not held in the driver’s hand.

Some motoring websites have interpreted the rule to mean drivers can be fined if they are distracted by their passenger’s phone (here and here). However, any penalties under the section would apply to the driver, not the passenger as suggested in the post.

NSW has a similar law (rule 299) and a Sydney driver was reportedly fined in 2019 because her passenger was using a phone for a video call.

Queensland’s Department of Transport and Main Roads told AAP FactCheck in an email “there is no Queensland legislation which prohibits passengers in a vehicle driven by an open licence holder from using a mobile phone”.

A spokesman said section 299 of the state’s road rules also didn’t mean it was illegal for passengers to use their phones.

“Under Queensland road rules, it is illegal to drive with a television or visual display unit in the vehicle, if the screen is visible to the driver,” he said in the email.

“This includes a passenger holding a mobile phone up for the driver to see, for example to read a message or view content. It is the responsibility of a driver to always maintain a clear view of the road, have proper control of their vehicle and drive with due care and attention.”

He said police had discretion in determining whether an offence was committed under section 299.

A Queensland Police spokesperson confirmed to AAP FactCheck in an email the transport law does not make it an offence for front-seat passengers to use mobiles. However, they also pointed out passengers of learner and provisional drivers were banned from using a phone’s loudspeaker.

Traffic and criminal lawyer David Abrey said while it is not illegal for a passenger to use their mobile phone in Queensland, under section 299 it may be illegal if the passenger is watching video on their phone and the driver can see it.

“So if the driver can watch their passenger’s screen while the passenger is on YouTube, for example, I think that this would be an issue,” Mr Abrey told AAP FactCheck via email.

“However, if the passenger is using the phone to make calls or is using their phone in such a way that it wouldn’t distract the driver (by turning the phone away from the driver so the screen isn’t visible), I’d be surprised if a ticket for this would hold up at a trial.”

The Verdict

There is no law preventing front-seat passengers from using mobile phones in Queensland. However, there is a law which allows for drivers to be fined if they are operating a vehicle while a screen is visible to them, except when the device is being used for purposes such as navigation. Passengers of learner or provisional licence drivers also aren’t allowed to use a mobile phone on loudspeaker.

Mostly False ÔÇô The claim is mostly inaccurate but includes minor elements of truth.

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