Govt should ban satnav mobiles in cars

23:28, Sep 28 2009

"Keep your eyes on the road, your hands upon the wheel."

Another piece of good advice for avoiding road accidents is to work out where you want to go, and how to get there, before you turn on the ignition.  The same holds true for avoiding political stuff-ups.

After the Government drafted legislation restricting the use of cellphones in cars this year it soon became clear it had set off without adequate preparation.

Getting clarification on what the law change actually meant was tortuous.

Last week, The Dominion Post asked the Transport Ministry whether it would illegal from November to use mobile phones as satellite navigation aids in cars.

The initial response from spokesman John Summers was confusing and ambiguous. But pressed for clarification, Mr Summers consulted colleagues and came back with a clear answer:


"You asked whether a driver can look at a navigation system on a mobile phone even it is securely mounted. The answer is to this is no, not while driving.   

"Under the Road User Amendment Rule 2009, you can use a mobile phone held in a cradle (including those that double as a GPS device) while driving but only to make, receive or terminate a phone call.  You cannot use them in any other way such as reading a GPS map, reading email, or consulting an electronic diary."

I would contend that was a sensible and considered position, and that Transport Minister Steven Joyce's decision yesterday to cave in from pressure from gadget-fans and amend the rule was a mistake.

Mr Joyce said it was not the intent of the rule to make it illegal for motorists to use the satellite navigation or music functions of their cellphones, "provided these are mounted in the vehicle and are manipulated infrequently".

He met with officials and instructed them to "amend the rule accordingly".

Mr Joyce appears to have  thereby explicitly sanctioned people taking their eyes off the road and looking at instructions on their mobile phone, and tinkering with it, while their vehicle is in motion.

That is arguably more dangerous than people using unmounted cellphones to answer calls, the problem the rule change was originally designed to tackle.

Trying to redraft the rule in a way that does explicitly condone careless driving will be an administrative headache.

How long does Mr Joyce believe it would be safe for people to take their eyes off the road? Say it takes 2 seconds to absorb the visual information from a smartphone doubling as a SatNav. In that time a car travelling at 50km will travel 27 metres.    

That could be the two seconds during which a child steps out in front of the vehicle.

As 2degrees chief executive Eric Hertz recently found out at an intersection in Auckland, even "glancing" at a SatNav phone while driving even at low speeds is a recipe for "fender benders".

Sure, there are lots of potential distractions when driving, many of them little to do with technology. But Mr Joyce is nevertheless sending out a dangerous message.


The Dominion Post