Most misunderstood rules cost motorists hundreds of millions

Almost one in five accidents involving serious injuries where a vehicle could not yield is due to roundabouts. Since July 2018, more than 7,000 motorists have been fined for violating roundabout rules.

Concrete turning circles were widely introduced in the United Kingdom and Australia in the 1960s. The Melbourne suburb of Balwyn made history in 1951 when it introduced a traffic calming roundabout.

Research has shown that roundabouts reduce the number of fatalities and serious injuries from high-speed head-on collisions and T-Bone collisions compared to a standard intersection with traffic lights.

When Carlon spoke to him Josh Szeps from ABC Radio 702, There were so many questions about roundabouts and cell phone use that he was invited to a second session.

The “simple guide” to these misunderstood rules states that drivers approaching a roundabout must slow down, give way to any vehicle already on the roundabout, and indicate whether they want to turn left, right, or make a U-turn. Everyone must indicate when exiting, unless it is a small roundabout which does not make this possible.

Professor Jake Oliver, associate director of transport and road safety research (TARS) at the University of NSW, said some guidance in the document, intended to make laws clearer, was confusing.

Other lesser-known laws are also puzzling, Olivier said.

For example, the rule stating that when walking in a public area, a person must not “proceed at a pace or in a manner that could result in injury or damage, or endanger people or property.

“[Does that mean] No jogging on the sidewalk?” he asked.

The rules on cell phone use also confuse the public, especially as drivers are allowed to use their built-in phone systems.


The death of model Sarah Durazza in an accident in 2013 while she was on her cell phone prompted a judge to call for a full ban. And a NSW coroner said her death – heard over the phone – was a dire warning of the dangers of inattention.

Carlon said 18 people were killed and 63 seriously injured in the five years to 2021 when the driver was known to be using a cell phone at the time of the accident.

Accidents involving cellphone use have declined but are still significantly underreported, he said.

“Especially in accidents with serious injuries, people don’t necessarily admit they used their phone,” Carlon said.

The mobile phone detection program, which will come into effect from March 2020 after a successful pilot, recognizes drivers who are texting, holding their phone or having it on their lap.

Carlon said it has been “enormously successful in improving compliance,” resulting in an 87 percent decrease in crime. Additionally, from March 2020 to the end of May 2023, 586,764 fines totaling $232 million were issued.

“A significant number of people have been fined, and also people who have adjusted their behavior,” Carlon said.

The use of existing native navigation systems as well as the use of mobile phones via Bluetooth or in an approved holder have created confusion. Fines imposed by police and observed by cameras resulted in 95,092 fines in the first five months of this year.

Carlon said texting on a cellphone is particularly deadly. It is prohibited and a driver may reply to a text message with audio only.

“We don’t want people to look down; This is the distraction factor that endangers motorists the most. You look down for two seconds and you cover 33 meters at 60 km/h. So when you look at your phone, you’re kind of blind to what’s happening on the street.”


He said the research showed that anything involving looking down — like reaching for an object or turning around to hand someone something — was actually dangerous.

The rules state that people with P and L license plates are not allowed to use mobile phone functions while driving, even if they are stuck in traffic. This includes navigational aids that may be on their phones.

Fully licensed drivers may only touch a mobile phone to answer a call or make an audio call when the device is mounted in a commercially available mount that does not provide a view of the road.

“It doesn’t stick with rubber bands,” he said.

Drivers are advised to use their phone in Bluetooth mode so they don’t have to touch it to answer a call or search for directions, for example, and to preset navigation before setting off.

Other misunderstood rules include safe distance (no rear-end or driving too close), keeping left on high-speed roads, turning and merging.

One of the rules that angers the public the most is #5: Motorists must keep to the left unless overtaking when the speed limit is over 80 km/h.

It routinely generates hundreds of angry comments on Transport for NSW’s Facebook page.


“This has got to be the least obeyed traffic rule of all – maybe we’ll start fining drivers if they don’t obey them, and that could change,” said one member of the public.

Number 10 on the list is what to do at yellow lights. Contrary to what most people think, a yellow light means stop.

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Justin Scaccy

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