The NSW government is going to use speed cameras to check if you're using a mobile phone while driving

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The New South Wales government is planning a series of tough new penalties for drivers in a bid to reduce the state’s road toll following nearly 400 deaths in 2017.

The vast majority of those deaths, nearly 70%, occurred on regional roads. The road toll over Christmas doubled on 2016, and has been increasing annually for the last three years, although the vast majority of the increase has involved light trucks.

Roads minister Melinda Pavey said someone living in the country was four times more likely to die in a crash than someone in the metro regions.

The use of a mandatory alcohol interlock, a breath testing device on a car’s ignition system, will be expanded to include people convicted of mid-range drink driving offences. Up until now, it was only used for repeat offenders or at the request of a magistrate. A zero reading is required for the car to start.

Police will have the power to suspend licences and hand out on-the-spot fines to people willing to admit to the charge rather than contest it in court.

The Berejiklian government will also change the law so that cameras, current used to detect speeding, red light and bus lane offences, can be used to find people on their mobile phone while driving, but says it will trial the technology first.

“Distraction is a huge concern in relation to deaths on our roads and that is a trend that is continuing,” premier Gladys Berejiklian said.

“As a government we know we can do more and that is why this Plan makes it clear if you break the law you will be caught and will pay the price.”

The government also plans to reduce speed limits and will consult with local councils about expanding 40km/h zones.

Heavy vehicle average speed cameras will be installed in an additional 11 locations, including metropolitan Sydney, but the government baulked at including speeding cars in the compliance program, which measures the average travelling speed between two points, with minister Pavey saying it was important to have the “respect of our community”, and had the potential to “turn country people off the conversation we’re having”.

“We believe we’ve got the balance right,” she said.

The premier said she wouldn’t rule out the idea.

Last month the NSW government added cocaine added to its list of drugs subject to roadside testing, as well as promising to double the number of tests to 200,000 annually by 2020.

A review into the use of prescription drugs is due by April, while the NSW Sentencing Council is investigating how to deal with the ongoing risk from repeat traffic offenders in the wake of the death of Home and Away actress Jessica Falkholt and her family, killed in a head on collision with a repeat offender in country NSW after he’d visited a methadone clinic.

A program to improve safety on country roads, including the Princes Highway, via “rumble strips” and wire-rope barriers to help prevent run-off-road and head-on crashes, has been allocated $125 million, with $11 million to improve pedestrian and cyclist safety.

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