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Last updated 05:00 14/02/2014
Cell driver
Andy Jackson
PREVALENT PROBLEM: Drivers continue to flout the law putting themselves and others at risk.

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Your mobile phone rings when you're dropping the kids off at school or driving home from work. What do you do?

Every year thousands of Aucklanders succumb to temptation by picking up their phones or replying to text messages while driving. They are being punished for it with fines of $80 and 20 demerit points.

"There are still far too many people using cellphones both for texting and for conversations," Automobile Association spokesman Mike Noon says.

"There was big awareness when it first came in [in November 2009]. I think people have just got comfortable again.

"It's a problem that's not actually fixed yet."

According to Ministry of Transport figures, mobile phones were a contributing factor in 89 serious crashes in Auckland in the three years before the ban.

Of these crashes four people died and eight people were seriously injured.

In the three years after the ban, there were 67 crashes which again resulted in four deaths and left eight people seriously injured.

Since the ban, the number of fines issued by police has climbed steadily in the Auckland police districts which include Auckland city, Counties Manukau and Waitemata.

Police issued 2229 tickets from November 2009 to June 2010. That jumped to 4842 in the July 2010 to June 2011 financial year while 5237 people copped fines during the 2011-12 financial year.

Auckland city district road policing manager Inspector Regan James says the practice needs to become socially unacceptable.

"There needs to be a wide-spread mindset that it's an unacceptable practice so everybody takes responsibility.

"It doesn't have to be the driver, it could be the passenger reminding them in a polite manner of the risks."

But many are prepared to take the risk, believing they won't get caught.

The latest Transport Ministry's Public Attitudes to Road Safety Survey found nearly half of the 1670 people surveyed believed it unlikely they would be caught if using a hand-held cellphone or texting while driving.

"I see so many people driving with phones, it's incredible," New Windsor mum Kat Marshall says.

"I think it's very tricky to enforce as well."

"I don't think it's going to go away . . . it's going to get worse," Mt Eden shopper David Stevenson says.

"It often takes being in an accident before you stop doing it or know someone close to you that's been hurt badly."

The AA is calling for more police campaigns to raise awareness of the dangers. Mr Noon says people often ignore the law because of peer pressure to answer their phones.

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"Young people particularly . . . the problem they have is if they don't answer their mates bomb them.

"It's something we really need to get into their psyche. Texting and driving could ruin your life."

Some say the law doesn't go far enough.

Auckland University associate professor of psychology Tony Lambert was one of seven New Zealand academics and scientists who made a submission to the government urging a ban on hands-free devices.

The group pointed to more than 30 scientific studies which found drivers are similarly impaired using hands-free and hand-held phones.

"There's no real difference in risk between using hand held and hands-free phones," Mr Lambert says.

"One of the things people need to know is the hands-free option is not a safe option.

"It's about the same as driving drunk."

Associate Transport Minister Michael Woodhouse, responsible for road safety, urged drivers to put their cellphones away in December after a Transport Ministry survey of 29,000 moving vehicles found one in every 40 drivers using a cellphone.

Though he agrees "too many New Zealanders are still using their mobile phones while driving" there are no plans to increase the penalty or ban hands-free driving.


The Road User Rule states that drivers cannot use a mobile phone: To make, receive, or terminate a telephone call To create, send, or read a text message or email To create, send, or view a video message To communicate in any other way

Source: Automobile Association. 

- Auckland City Harbour News

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