Drivers ignore text ban
Almost half the country's motorists think they can get away with using mobile phones while driving.
Talking and texting while behind the wheel has been illegal since November 2009, but new research by the Ministry of Transport has revealed drivers still have little fear of getting caught.
The ministry's annual Public Attitudes to Road Safety Survey for 2013 found 47 per cent of the 1670 people interviewed thought it was unlikely they would be pinged for using a hand-held phone while driving.
It comes after Associate Transport Minister Michael Woodhouse said recently that too many people were flouting the law and needlessly putting themselves and others in danger.
"Using a cellphone while driving may seem a minor offence, on the face of it, but for some New Zealanders it will be the difference between a long life or an early death." He was not available for comment yesterday but a spokesman said the Government still stood by that view.
In June, a separate ministry study monitored 29,000 drivers across the country and found one in every 40 used a mobile phone while driving. When their cars were stuck in traffic, that number increased to one in every 20.
Automobile Association spokesman Mike Noon said current attitudes toward mobile phones in cars were concerning, but not surprising.
The association had wanted an education campaign on the dangers of mobile phones in cars to accompany the ban in 2009 but it never happened.
"We want people thinking that using cellphones while driving is putting people at significant risk. But at the moment, the only thing people are thinking about is getting pinged."
Because the compliance rate was so low, more education was needed before talk turned to increasing the penalty for mobile phone use, he said. Getting caught currently results in an $80 fine and 20 demerit points.
The 2013 attitudes to road safety survey was the first time drivers were asked about the likelihood of getting caught using a mobile phone.
When asked what the biggest distractions for drivers were, 14 per cent pointed to mobile phones and 10 per cent mentioned text messages.
It was also the first time people were asked how fair or unfair it would be to force convicted drunk-drivers to pay for and use an alcohol ignition interlock - 89 per cent said it was fair.
Mr Noon said international experience showed interlocks were the most effective tool for tackling drink-driving but not enough judges were turning to them in this country. "The interlock programme here is failing and needs reviewing."
Sixty per cent of those surveyed favoured a lower blood-alcohol limit for drivers over the age of 20, with 43 per cent saying it should be lowered from 80mg per 100ml of blood to 50mg, which the Government is in the process of doing.
KIWIS ATTITUDE TO ROAD SAFETY
81 per cent described the country's roads safe to travel on.
There was no significant change when it came to public perceptions of the risk of being caught drink-driving, speeding or failing to wear a seatbelt.
Only 7 per cent felt police were being too heavy-handed when it came to enforcing road safety laws, while 40 per cent said police should increase their efforts.
39 per cent said penalties should be harsher; just 5 per cent wanted less severe penalties.
47 per cent of adults thought there should be more publicity and advertising about road safety.
Most people recognised drink-driving was risky, but 10 per cent said there was little chance of having an accident if you were careful. This was a return to the high recorded in 2011.
The Dominion Post