A doubling in the number of car crashes involving cellphones has led the Government to consider a ban on drivers using the devices.
Transport Safety Minister Harry Duynhoven said today the Government wanted to amend land transport rules to ban the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving a vehicle.
Using Blackberry devices and Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs) would also be banned under the proposed ban. But drivers would still be able to use hands-free devices.
The Government had first considered a ban in 2004, but had then decided it was not necessary.
"Mobile phone technology and the culture around their use has moved on significantly since 2004, when the Government first looked at banning cellphones while driving," Mr Duynhoven said.
"The number of reported crashes involving the use of mobile phones has more than doubled over the last six years, with research showing that using a mobile phone while driving increases the risk of being involved in a crash by up to four times."
Between 2002 and 2007 there were 411 injury crashes and 26 fatal crashes where the use of mobile phones or other telecommunication devices was identified as a contributing factor.
"In a car, mobile phone distraction is part of a much bigger driver distraction issue. In 2006 driver distraction was identified as a contributing factor in 11 per cent of all crashes, with a total social cost of $300 million."
Mr Duynhoven said people responding to text messages immediately they arrived meant drivers were not focused on the road ahead.
"This is only going to worsen as access to enhanced technology is increased," Mr Duynhoven said.
Transport Minister Annette King said a ban on hand-held mobile phone use for drivers will bring New Zealand into line with international road safety standards at least 45 countries, including most in the European Union. The United Kingdom and Australia have already introduced legislation to ban the use of mobile phones while driving.
"While awareness campaigns would continue to focus on the wider issue of driver distraction, the Government's decision to consider a ban on cellphone use recognised the unique nature of mobile phone distraction," Ms King said.
The new rule is scheduled to be released for public consultation in August 2008.
If a law change is enacted, an awareness-raising education campaign to inform the public will be undertaken, she said.
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