Cellphones and cars

Last updated 12:16 27/07/2009

Why is Steven Joyce banning handheld cellphones in cars?

I remember his predecessor, transport safety minister Harry Duynhoven, agonising over this one. First he was for the idea, then he wasn't, then he was again. In the end he never got around to it.

Joyce has picked this one up, however, and appears ready to push it through into law. The only debate seems to be over the size of the penalty. A $50 fine or $100? Demerit points as well? That could lead to loss of licence.

The problem, though, is all the research seems to suggest that it isn't the physical act of holding a handheld phone that can be dangerous while driving. It's the distraction from the conversation itself.

In which case, why isn't the Government proposing to ban hands-free kits and two-way radios as well?

The answer is that National doesn't consider it would be acceptable to the public. And particularly to business, which relies on being able to contact its fleet vehicles, truckies, couriers, and the like.

There's also a safety aspect. Cellphones can be incredibly handy things for notifying emergency services of accidents or other trouble on the road.

But the fact remains that handheld phones are no more dangerous than talking on a hands-free. And, according to the research, less dangerous than turning to talk to passengers in the back seat, fiddling with the stereo, or eating in the car - all of which cause more accidents.

Surely some common sense is required here. You don't (or at least you shouldn't) reach for a cup of coffee while overtaking on the open road. You don't turn to yell at the kids while turning at an intersection. And you wouldn't pick up the phone while completing a bit of tricky driving or trying to park.

On the other hand, on a straight piece of road with little traffic or while chugging along in rush hour, it might be safe to make a quick call. It's all a matter of judgment, which is surely what driving - and many other things - is all about.

My fear is that by banning handheld cellphones the Government is treating the public like idiots who can't be trusted to know when it is reasonable to use one. Speed limits and alcohol bans are one thing. Handheld phones are quite another.

I guess National must have polled on this issue, and maybe there isn't much public outrage. Certainly I think most agree that texting while driving is pretty silly. But I would have thought Joyce would have bigger issues to deal with in his portfolio than banning something for marginal, and probably debatable, safety gains.

Given National was once lukewarm on this idea, I can only conclude a bit of official capture has gone on here, a bit like Kate Wilkinson over the folic acid in bread debate.

In the wake of any skillful public relations campaign, however, I guess it will be pushed through. I wonder, though, whether public resentment might start building once the fines start rolling in.




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Alan Wilkinson   #1   12:24 pm Jul 27 2009

Colin, I think we can blame this idiocy squarely on idiotic media journalism helping to inflame and misinform people.

I would have no issue with banning texting. But banning handheld voice is just stupid. It will have no effect on the road toll and it will largely be circumvented and ignored.

eddie   #2   12:26 pm Jul 27 2009

It's a dangerous practice, who cares about the 'studies', most of us are guilty of Txting whilst driving at one tome or another, and it's not easy to do and stay on the straight and narrow road....I don't do it any more as I admit I cannot safely drive and Txt. But stopping cell calls (non hand held) whilst driving is a good Idea.

Make it $100, and no demerit pts for 1st offence, $100 and demerit pts for 2nd, $100 and more demerit pts for 3rd etc, we'll all soon get the message. If you get a call pull over and take it, or wait till your not driving and call back.

Afterall how many take cell calls whilst on the toilet?, in other words a few min's to call back isn't the end of the world whilst driving or on the bog! :)

Sailor Sam   #3   12:32 pm Jul 27 2009

I applaud the idea, can't see your problems with it Colin. Me thinks maybe you are very guilty of driving while on a hand held phone.

Darth Michael   #4   12:36 pm Jul 27 2009

Like most of these petty little laws, a law against using a cell-phone while operating a motor vehicle will INEVITABLY be used for revenue collection purposes.

And let's not forget the blatant hypocrisy of the police ticketing (revenue collecting) from people despite the fact that the police routinely use communications devices while they drive. As usual, it will be, one law for the police and one law for everyone else.

Rofl @ another typically bad law.

Karyn   #5   12:41 pm Jul 27 2009

Why the need to make a phone call while driving at all?

What can't wait until you can safely pull over?

As a pedestrian, I don't trust the driving public much at all. I've seen plenty of idiocy. But don't worry, my ire isn't reserved solely for people on cellphones. It includes the guy that almost ran me over while crossing a pedestrian crossing, because he was too busy looking at something below his dashboard. It includes all the drivers out there too stupid to understand what it means to concentrate on the road. Too self absorbed to understand the potential consequences to others of their lapses.

The fact that other distractions cause more accidents, isn't a reason to not address one of the potential distractions. It's a reason to deal with all of them.

Alan Wilkinson   #6   12:43 pm Jul 27 2009

"If you get a call pull over and take it, or wait till your not driving and call back."

Eddie, most places I drive there is nowhere to pull over. And calling back often doesn't work if the caller id is blocked or missing or the caller has gone AWOL.

Kevin James   #7   12:46 pm Jul 27 2009

How many people die a year from mistakes whilst driving...lets ban cars

How many people die swimming each year...lets ban swimming

How many people die from Hospital mistakes...lets ban doctors

Makes a man want to run through the house with scissors.

melbournian   #8   12:49 pm Jul 27 2009

Another victory for ideology over common sense. You either ban both hand-held and hands-free or neither. The only reason to ban is safety, and the research shows that both are equally unsafe.

But ideology says you must not do anything to affect businesses, so you get a political decision. If the change comes into effect, perhaps insurance companies will increase the premiums of those that use hands-free and two way radios, as they will be more likely to cause an accident than the rest of us.

Phoebe   #9   12:50 pm Jul 27 2009

It's texting that is dangerous as is actually putting in a number and making a call. Answering and talking on a clear road are fine. Worse are kids making a racket, talking to a front seat passenger and looking at them, and changing the radion station, all require the drivers attention diverted from the road. One doesn't look at the phone while talking or answering, unlees the phone is hidden in the depths of the handbag needing a rumage to find it. Colin, common sense seems to be a forgotten survival technique

David   #10   12:57 pm Jul 27 2009

Joyce was totally hoodwinked on this one and anyone with a modicom of common sense can see its the distraction not the physically holding of the phone. If you text and drive they should throw the book at you as that is just mad. Anyway it wont make the blindest bit of difference to the road toll and these Nats need to learn that continual interference will leave them as unpopular as labour. Leave us alone please !! there are plenty of laws available for daft behaviour. BTW Colin pleased the last blog has gone as I was beginning to think I was living in Cuba.

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