Editorial: Simple message not getting through

Last updated 05:00 14/01/2013

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OPINION: At some point in the near future, the New Zealand Transport Agency will begin an advertising campaign focused on the dangers of using cellphones while driving. It is a campaign that will require the use of significant sums of public money. It is also one that should not have to be run at all.

Common sense dictates that a person cannot operate a motor vehicle and send or read cellphone text messages at the same time. Driving safely requires the person behind the wheel to have their undivided attention on the road ahead of them and the traffic coming the other way. That is impossible to do while looking at the screen of a cellphone.

Likewise, a driver's ability to retain full control of a vehicle is diminished if, instead of having both hands on the wheel, one is glued to his or her ear while they make or take a phone call. Their attention is also diverted from the road to the conversation in which they are engaged, further increasing the chances of an accident. Talking on a cellphone while driving requires far more concentration than conversing with a person in the car.

It should not require an advertising campaign from NZTA for even the most dim-witted drivers to work out those simple facts for themselves. Sadly, the number of idiots on New Zealand roads who continue to use their cellphones while driving means the agency has a duty to highlight the risks, not so much to protect those who recklessly put their own lives in danger, but the innocent motorists and pedestrians they might kill in a crash.

Figures obtained by this newspaper show that 28 people have died on New Zealand roads in accidents caused by people using cellphones since 2007. Thousands more have been ticketed for driving while using their phone.

In the year to November 2011, 10,070 people were caught breaking the law forbidding the use of a cellphone while driving. A further 12,973 were caught in the year to November 2012.

In the 12 months to March last year, 149 crashes on New Zealand roads were thought to be at least partly caused by cellphone use.

The increase in citations can be partly explained by police keeping a closer eye on the problem. However, the numbers also demonstrate just how many people fail to appreciate the very real risk they run when they drive while texting or talking on a phone.

The advent of cellphones and smart phones has been one of the most useful technological advances in history. They allow people to be connected with their loved ones, places of work, clients and the rest of the world, providing a boon for social interaction and commerce.

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However, the damage that can be done as a result of motor accidents caused by cellphone use is enormous. They have no place in the hands of someone behind the wheel.

No phone call or text conversation is that important that it needs to occur while a person is driving. The message is simple. Phones should be turned off and stowed in the glove compartment while driving, and if they are not and a call or text comes in, pull into the side of the road before answering.

It really is that easy to stay alive.

- The Dominion Post

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