Driver's son pleads for more care behind wheel

Last updated 05:00 02/02/2013

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Distraction and tiredness can be a killer, reports Aaron Leaman .

In a year of change and challenges, the hardest thing for Eliot Jessep has been not being able to turn to his mother for advice.

"It's the thing that screws with me the most, knowing I can't just call up my mum for help."

Paula Jessep died on December 22, 2011, after her car collided head-on with a southbound vehicle carrying three young women, on State Highway 1, just north of Tirau.

Since his mother's death, Eliot has left school and enrolled in a tertiary course.

He hopes one day to travel and work in Canada.

"I've had to grow up ridiculously quickly and my life is so different now."

A police crash report concluded Ms Jessep was texting when her vehicle veered across the centre-line.

Her flip-style cellphone was found in the driver's footwell area, showing a partially written text. Phone records showed Ms Jessep had sent 19 texts within a 45-minute period leading up to the crash.

In his inquest findings into Ms Jessep's death, released yesterday, Coroner Wallace Bain said the 37-year-old's death raised important issues around the dangers of driving while texting and driving while tired.

Mr Bain said distracted driving was a real threat to people on the roads with studies showing drivers using phones were four times likely to cause a crash.

The coroner said he was also "enormously impressed" with Eliot who spoke at his mother's inquest about the dangers of driving while distracted.

"The three young women badly injured in this accident are to be commended for commencing a campaign which travels around educating people about the dangers of texting and driving and as Eliot has explained to the court the dangers of a distracted driver," Mr Bain wrote.

He recommended his findings be forwarded to the Transport Minister for consideration to support and increase a public education campaign around the dangers of driving while distracted "which includes the use of cellphones, texting and general tiredness".

The NZ Transport Agency last month confirmed it was planning a campaign targeting driver distraction, with a focus on cellphones.

The campaign will be part of the Government's Safer Journeys strategy to improve road safety.

Police figures show 28 people have died on New Zealand roads in accidents caused by people using mobile phones since 2007.

Eliot said he accepted texting was a contributing factor in his mother's crash.

"It was a factor but it's not the sole contributing factor.

"The air conditioning was on high when she was driving, she was tired, she had been assisting with a funeral all week and it was raining. All those contributing things piled into one.

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"I agree with the coroner that there needs to be more awareness around the dangers of driving while distracted.

"The consequences on people's lives can be huge. I've lost my mum; mum was everything."

- © Fairfax NZ News

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