In a country in which the Government regulates where we can smoke, what our children can buy at the school tuck shop and how we can discipline them, there is a glaring anomaly in the law. It is the absence of any rules about the use of cellphones in motor vehicles, The Dominion Post writes.
That may be about to change. Transport Safety Minister Harry Duynhoven, who has, for several years, been advocating a ban on the use of hand-held cellphones by drivers, has finally persuaded Cabinet to consider a ban.
It is a long overdue development.
The number of reported crashes involving the use of mobile phones has more than doubled over the past six years and research has shown that using a cellphone while driving increases the risk of being involved in a crash by up to four times.
In Britain, a study a few years ago, using a driving simulator, found that motorists using hand-held phones took 30 per cent longer to react to hazards than motorists driving under the influence of alcohol and 50 per cent longer than drivers not under the influence.
But even more dangerous than talking on the phone while driving is fumbling in a pocket or handbag for a ringing phone while travelling at 100kmh on the motorway, or texting in the same circumstances.
All are foolish practices. All have become common as our dependence on cellphones has increased.
In New Zealand, the risks are exacerbated by the enthusiasm with which people - the young, in particular - have taken to text messaging.
As Mr Duynhoven points out, the social conventions around texting mean that today's drivers want to respond to messages immediately rather than wait till they reach their destinations.
Previous attempts to stop motorists using hand-held cellphones foundered in the face of arguments that cellphones are just one form of driver distraction.
Eating, loading cassettes or CDs into car stereos, dropped cigarettes and even buzzing insects can be equally hazardous.
But cellphone use, which contributed to 26 fatal crashes and 411 injury crashes between 2002 and 2007, is something the Government can do something about now.
It should do so. Overseas, at least 45 countries, including Britain and Australia, have already legislated to ban the use of cellphones by drivers. The consultation document, to be released in August, should be ticked off and the ban implemented next July as proposed by Mr Duynhoven and Transport Minister Annette King.
The public rightly chafes at the nanny state tendencies of a Government that believes New Zealanders cannot be trusted to spend their money wisely and wants to exert more and more control over citizens' lives.
But in this case it is on the right track. Driving while using cellphones reduces safety margins. Those who assert they know the difference between safe and unsafe use of phones should ask themselves if they are equally confident that the testosterone-loaded 18-year-old rushing from football practice to meet his girlfriend will show the same good judgment when his phone beeps as he approaches in the opposite direction.
- The Dominion Post