Grieving relatives of an elderly couple killed when a teenage driver smashed into their car while texting friends want a drivers' cellphone ban to prevent more needless deaths.
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Russell Keating "hopes and prays" that something positive comes from the loss of his brother and sister-in-law, who died in the crash near Ashburton.
"There's no words to describe the loss - especially when they were cut down in the prime of their lives.
"It makes me angry. [The texting driver] has got to live with it for the rest of his life. Whether he's remorseful about it, I don't know. Time will tell."
Cellphone distraction has contributed to 446 vehicle crashes since 1995, claiming 34 lives and injuring 587 people. But, though 35 countries ban drivers from using handheld cellphones, New Zealand does not.
Samuel and Beverley Keating were driving home after celebrating their 49th wedding anniversary on September 27 about 10.30pm.
Dairy worker Robert John Stonestreet, 19, had been drinking.
He told police he was so preoccupied reading and sending text messages as he drove his Toyota Hilux home that he failed to notice a stop sign and ploughed into the Keatings' Mercedes.
The couple, both in their 70s, died at the scene. Stonestreet suffered minor injuries and was later found to be over the legal blood-alcohol limit.
He admitted two charges of drink-driving causing death in Ashburton District Court this week and will be sentenced on March 11.
Though Stonestreet could have been charged with manslaughter, a police spokesman said the serious charges he faced, which carry a maximum of five years in prison, were appropriate given the circumstances and that he was a first-time offender.
Transport Safety Minister Harry Duynhoven has said before that drivers should be banned from using handheld cellphones, but said yesterday that there was no such proposal before Cabinet.
Work was under way around the wider issue of driver distraction, he said. Police already had powers to ticket people who drove without due care or attention.
Mr Keating said the dead couple were happily in love and had spent their retirement restoring an old cottage and railway guard house.
The family were still hurting, but held no animosity toward Stonestreet.
"What didn't he understand about the word 'Stop'? Did he not realise that driving a motor vehicle is a privilege that you don't take lightly? You've got to concentrate."
He wants a ban on using cellphones while driving but is sceptical about whether one will ever be introduced.
"Once the boy is sentenced, then that is basically the end of the accident, but not the grieving. I just hope and pray that something positive can come out of it."
Mr Duynhoven said texting when driving was "one of the dumbest things you can do", but cellphone use was a factor in only a small percentage of crashes. Reading newspapers, applying makeup and eating food were also problem areas.
"Should we then have the power to say you shouldn't change CDs or a tape because that's even more distracting than using a cellphone? It's the issue of distraction rather than the particular implement you're using."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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