You won't get away with this ...

LOOK NO HANDS: An unorthodox approach to the cellphone driving regulations.
KEVIN STENT/Sunday Star-Times
LOOK NO HANDS: An unorthodox approach to the cellphone driving regulations.

Putting your cellphone on speaker and squeezing it into your cleavage may work in California, but it won't help you avoid a ticket here.

From today, it is illegal to use a handheld cellphone while driving in New Zealand.

Calls can only be made using a hands-free kit, and those caught breaking the law will be hit with an $80 fine and 20 demerit points.

BAND AID: Hands fee kit
KEVIN STENT/Sunday Star-Times
BAND AID: Hands fee kit

And you won't get away with the creative methods the Americans are employing to avoid cellphone bans.

In California, where a state-wide ban has been in place for more than a year, drivers have been using baseball caps, hair and even breasts to help them evade detection while yakking on the phone.

A tongue-and-cheek video on YouTube demonstrates a "poor man's version of a Bluetooth" and shows someone sporting a baseball cap and sliding a regular-size cellphone under the seam next to his ear. The hat perfectly holds the phone snug against his ear.

Wrapping a giant rubber band around your head and sliding a hand-held phone underneath is also legal in California, as is the cleavage tuck.

This popular method of skirting the ban involves women putting their phone on speaker and then squeezing the device into their cleavage.

Provided drivers keep both hands on the wheel, such inventive solutions to the ban are legal there.

Such ploys won't work here though, as the New Zealand law specifically says drivers cannot make or receive calls using speakerphone unless the phone is "secured in a mounting fixed to the vehicle" or is fully voice-activated.

That means you can't simply plop your phone on the passenger seat – or down your top – and use the loudspeaker function so you can continue your conversation behind the wheel.

The ban is being introduced here after years of disquiet about mobile phone use by drivers. From 2003-08 there were 482 injury crashes and 25 fatal crashes on New Zealand roads where use of a mobile phone was a factor.

Police say while the new law beds in, drivers caught out will likely get warning letters before cops start dishing out tickets.

Police Association vice-president Chris Cahill says police view the new law as an opportunity to change driver behaviour.

His biggest concern about enforcing the new law is having the manpower to do it. While the onus is on police to prove a driver is breaching the law, he says many traffic violations are proved on the word of a police officer alone having witnessed the offending.

And Otago University law professor Geoff Hall says, as with any new legislation, the cellphone ban will be tested in the courts by offenders trying to avoid an infringement.

"Sometimes we can immediately see fish-hooks in legislation. In this case, subsection five which says [when in a secure mounting] you can manipulate that phone as long as it is infrequent and brief. This is most vague."

He says offenders could potentially argue that their use of the phone is infrequent and brief, and police officers at the scene would find it difficult to prove otherwise "beyond reasonable doubt".

Phone records will probably be useful for police to prove infringements when they are challenged, he says.

Cahill says he would be disappointed if motorists unreasonably chose to argue decisions about the new rule.

He says police might later consider enforcing the law by using video cameras at intersections as they do in some cases for motorists who ignore stop signs or traffic lights.

WHAT THE LAW SAYS

From today it is illegal to use a handheld cellphone while driving.

Calls can be made and received only if the cellphone is "secured in a mounting fixed to the vehicle" or is fully voice-activated.

The rules apply even while stopped at a traffic light. Those caught breaking the law face an $80 fine and 20 demerit points on their licence.

Police say as the law beds in, offenders will likely receive warning letters before tickets are dished out.



Sunday Star Times