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Is it illegal to use hands-free while driving?

Life doesn't stop when you're driving, and sometimes it's very tempting to pick up a phone call.

Yes and no, as it's not illegal if you're on your full licence but in some states, if you're on your L plates or your P plates, the law says you need to ditch the Bluetooth and stay completely focused on the road.

Life doesn't stop when you're driving; the texts and calls keep coming in when you're on the road and sometimes it's very tempting to pick up a phone call on a long commute, or text someone when stationary at a red light.

But in 2012 the nation amended the Australian Road Rules, a national set of laws around what's legal and illegal on the road, to criminalise the use of hand-held mobiles while behind the wheel of a car. The ability to use hands-free technology for phone calls is permitted in this national road law, as long as drivers can use the technology without touching their phone at all while driving. But the specific penalties, and whether or not this law differs for drivers on their provisional licence or learner's permit, vary across the different states and territories of Australia.

In New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and the Northern Territory, the laws are pretty similar; to put it simply, you can use a hands-free device if you're on your full licence but not if you're still on your Ls or your Ps. While the penalties vary a bit across the states, in NSW, according to the NSW Roads and Maritime Services demerits schedule, you're looking at a $330 fine and four demerit points if you use a mobile phone in any way when you don't have your full licence yet. And in the NT, according to the NT government's webpage on traffic offences, learners and provisional licence holders are looking at a $250 fine and three demerit points for any use of a mobile phone.

In Queensland, there are additional rules in place for provisional licence holders and learners. According to the QLD government's webpage on driving with mobile phones, learners and P1 provisional drivers under the age of 25 must not use hands-free, wireless headsets or a mobile phone's loudspeaker - and their passengers are also not allowed to use the loudspeaker function on a mobile phone.

In Western Australia, the same national laws on using hand-free devices apply. But as per the WA Road Safety Commission there's no distinction made between drivers who are on their Ls or Ps and those on their full licence; it's perfectly legal for drivers with all types of licences to use their mobile hands-free.

While we couldn't find information clarifying whether or not drivers with L plates and/or P plates can use hands-free technology in Tasmania and the Australian Capital Territory, the Australian Federal Police's webpage on driver distraction makes an important point about the legality of using hands-free while driving. Although it is technically legal, you should be careful to limit your use of hands-free technology to short, relatively unemotional phone calls, as you risk being prosecuted for failing to have control over your vehicle if your driving is affected by the distraction of being on the phone. This is definitely something to be aware of as it means that, in the event of a crash, your insurance could be affected if you are alleged to have not had full control over your vehicle - although this may or may not be the case, dependent on your specific insurance agreement. Of course, you should always consult the details of your specific insurance coverage for the most accurate information.

This article is not intended as legal advice. You should check with your local road authority to verify the information written here is suitable to your situation before driving in this manner.

​Do you drive using hands-free? Or do you prefer to turn your phone off when you drive? Let us know in the comments section below.

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