Police are frustrated by drivers continuing to use mobile phones illegally because they know "what happens next".

In the first half of 2017 police issued 316 tickets in the Western Bay of Plenty to people who were illegally using their mobile phones while driving.

A total of 717 tickets were issued to drivers for the whole of 2016, a massive jump from the 138 tickets issued in 2010. In total, more than $433 million worth of tickets have been issued since it was made illegal.

Under the Land Transport (Road User) Rule 2004 people can not use hand-held mobile phones or devices while driving, unless they are in an emergency situation and unsafe or impracticable to stop the vehicle to make the call. Penalties are an $80 fine and 20 demerit points.

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The Bay of Plenty Times carried out a 10-minute survey of drivers at the intersection of 9th Ave and Cameron Rd yesterday afternoon, and saw a total of seven drivers using their mobile phones.

Western Bay acting head of road policing Sergeant Wayne Hunter said the issue was rife. Local firefighters have also complained.

"It's frustrating because I can see what happens next," Hunter said.

Hunter has been to countless crashes where mobile phone use was a factor. He was stunned and concerned local drivers did not appear to take the issue seriously.

"It's amazing how many people are driving looking up and looking down, you know they are using their phones, especially at intersections."

Hunter said when drivers were pulled over, they often questioned what harm they were doing.

"The consequences can be quite severe ... especially with a lot of crashes where you have extraction [people trapped]. The reason they have crashed is they have been looking at their phone."

Automobile Association's Bay of Plenty/Coromandel chairman Terry Molloy said texting while driving was a big problem and "incredibly dangerous".

"It should be instant loss of licence if you are caught texting ... we need to take a stronger line."

Molloy, who is also a Tauranga councillor, said authorities could make the roads as safe as they possibly could be, but if drivers were not taking responsibility for their actions then crashes would still happen.

Caroline Perry from Brake, road safety charity, agreed harsher penalties were needed.

"It's extremely concerning that so many drivers are choosing to put their own life, and the lives of others at risk by using a phone at the wheel."

Papamoa volunteer fire brigade published a self-confessed "rant" on their Facebook page this month after noticing several drivers using phones while driving past a crash scene. The post stated that not only was this illegal, it was a distraction that could have resulted in firefighters being run over.

Despite this, fire chief Allan Bickers said the worst examples were on the Auckland motorway.

"Not only are they talking on phones but they are texting while driving 100km/h."

Bickers said he toots at them and drivers often jumped up and looked guilty "so they know they are in the wrong but they are doing it anyway".

St John's ambulance district operations manager Jeremy Gooders said they were concerned about the number of crashes his team was attending and anything that acted as a distraction to drivers was an issue.

The dangers of mobile phones while driving

• A study of in-vehicle video footage estimated that 22 per cent of crashes could be caused, at least in part, by driver distraction.

• Drivers speaking on phones are four times more likely to be in a crash that causes injury, whether on a hands-free or hand-held phone.

• Hands-free calls cause almost the same level of risk as hand-held, as the call itself is the main distraction, not holding the phone. Brain scanning has confirmed that speaking on a hands-free phone makes you less alert and less visually attentive.

• Texting drivers have 35 per cent slower reaction times and poor lane control. One large-scale study found texting drivers were 23 times more likely to crash than a driver paying full attention.

Source - Brake Road Safety