Cellphone drivers don't heed the call

NEIL RATLEY
Last updated 05:00 10/06/2014

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Southern drivers are refusing to stay off their mobile phones while behind the wheel, an action labelled as dangerous as drink-driving, road safety experts say.

This month, a mobile phone blitz by police in Queenstown caught 14 people in four hours using their cellphones at one location.

Senior Sergeant John Fookes, of Queenstown, said the use of cellphones by drivers made them more likely to lose control of their vehicles.

Figures released by New Zealand Police show since the introduction of a law in 2010 banning the use of a hand-held device for calling or texting while driving, the number of offences has continued to rise in the south and across the country.

In 2013, there were 840 mobile phone offences, 790 in 2012, 604 in 2011 and 463 in 2010.

Acting Southern District Road Policing manager, Senior Sergeant Steve Larking, said police were frustrated and disappointed drivers were not staying off their cellphones while driving.

"This is a concern to police because accidents are being caused while people are distracted using cellphones when they should be concentrating on driving," Larking said.

Road Safety Southland road user safety adviser Jane Ballantyne said plenty of research showed that talking on a cellphone, while driving, could have disastrous results and significantly increased the risk of crashing.

"Driving safely requires a driver to pay full attention to the road and to the environment shared with other road users."

Research in New Zealand and overseas showed cellphone use in vehicles increased the risk of a crash by 400 per cent.

Many people would not dream of driving after drinking alcohol because they knew that increased the risk of crashing, being injured or injuring someone else, Ballantyne said.

"The use of cellphones while driving should have the same reaction because it can have the same outcome."

More education was needed around the use of cellphones while driving, said Ballantyne, who added she would also like to see the ban of handsfree devices.

"Allowing the use of handsfree devices does not back the cognitive research that says the brain tends to focus on one major task at a time. And cellphone use causes endless distractions coming from the conversations that have nothing to do with the driving task," she said.

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