The phone-driving toll: 28 lives

TOM HUNT
Last updated 05:00 12/01/2013
Text driving campaigners
Fairfax NZ

GET THE MESSAGE: From left, Tokoroa sisters Jade and Renee Beale and friend Arianna Ashworth are campaigning to prevent future text-driving accidents. After her car was hit by a texting driver, Renee suffered numerous broken bones and needed a leg reconstruction. Her sister was also seriously injured.

Car remains
THE OUTCOME: The remains of Renee Beale's car after the Tirau accident.

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Three years into a ban on drivers using handheld cellphones, the number of those caught keeps rising - as does the body count.

Police figures show 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.

The NZ Transport Agency has confirmed it is planning a new campaign specifically targeting driver distraction, with a focus on cellphones.

A spokeswoman said the campaign had been worked on for the past six months and was part of the Safer Journeys strategy to improve road safety.

Road policing national manager Superintendent Carey Griffiths said the rise of smartphones, with which people could check social media and emails, as well as answering text messages and calls, was adding to the problem.

"There is the opportunity for more and more distraction as we are getting more and more wired."

Figures show in the year to November, 2011, 10,070 drivers were caught.

In the year to last November the figure rose to 12,973.

Mr Griffiths said the number of people caught could be due to more people flouting the law or police keeping a keener eye on it.

"The feedback we are getting is there are plenty of people out there willing to quite blatantly drive around [using] a cellphone."

Figures released under the Official Information Act show that in the year to March, 2012, 149 crashes were thought to have been at least partly caused by mobile use.

But Mr Griffiths thought the real number was much higher as many drivers would not admit to using their phone.

In December 2011, Jade Beale, 25, experienced first-hand the dangers of texting while driving.

Returning home to Tokoroa from Christmas shopping in Hamilton, Miss Beale was sleeping in the back seat of the car, with her younger sister Renee driving and friend Arianna Ashworth in the passenger seat.

Just north of Tirau, a driver coming the other way crossed the centre line and slammed into their car. The female driver of the other car died at the scene, while the two sisters had to be cut from their car.

Renee Beale needed a leg reconstruction after splitting her femur in half, crushing her knee cap and snapping her shin. She suffered numerous other broken bones.

Miss Ashworth needed surgery to fix facial lacerations.

Jade Beale had 10 broken ribs, a broken sternum and broken collarbone.

"I punctured my lung, knocked my heart and my stomach was twisted to the side - the muscles sheered away from the lining, so I had to have a lot of surgery to have my stomach put back together.

"This included removing part of my intestines and stopping internal bleeding," she said.

After the accident, Senior Sergeant Fane Troy said initial investigations showed the driver of the other car, Paula Jessep, 37, of Hamilton, was "in the midst of a text conversation" when the crash happened.

The trio who survived the crash are campaigning via a Facebook page to educate people of the dangers of using handheld cellphones while driving.

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Jade Beale said people should put their phones on silent and in the glove box, but if that proved too tempting they should put phones in the boot.

- The Dominion Post

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