Flak for councillor over phone pic

By Mathew Dearnaley

George Wood. Photo / Natalie Slade
George Wood. Photo / Natalie Slade

Former North Shore mayor and senior policeman George Wood says he did not realise he was breaking the law by taking a cellphone photograph while driving across the harbour bridge.

"I've become aware of something I wasn't aware of and I should have taken the time to read the rules a bit closer," he told the Herald yesterday, after being asked how he took the photograph before posting it on his Facebook page.

Mr Wood, now an Auckland councillor, had by last night received 124 Facebook comments about his photograph of the Tino Rangatiratanga and New Zealand flags flying on the bridge on Waitangi Day.

He said he did so because he believed flying two flags was fostering separatism. He noted that the cellphone driving ban was introduced long after he retired as a detective inspector in 1998.

He believed he would have been within the law had he used a standard camera, which would have been harder to operate while driving.

Although just one comment questioned his action in taking the photo while driving, political opponents of the C&R councillor are unimpressed.

Council transport committee chairman Mike Lee said it was "not a very smart way to use a smartphone", especially in view of Mr Wood's community safety role.

He feared his committee member may have suffered "a redneck brain explosion".

Devonport-Takapuna local board chairman Chris Darby, who was beaten by Mr Wood for a North Shore council seat in the 2010 local elections, said the incident raised questions about his rival's credibility.

"George is seen as the council's leader on community safety issues, and here he ignores a well-publicised safety message on a road where ... the results can be quite catastrophic," he said.

"He has been pretty good at pointing out illegalities of others in the past."

Mr Wood said he was not pleading ignorance of the law as an excuse for his action, but traffic was light on the bridge when he took the photo, and he did so without moving his eyes off the road ahead.

His cellphone was connected to a legal hands-free kit, and he simply pointed it at the flags to get the picture.

"I don't think I was a danger to other road users."

Police motorways support manager Senior Sergeant Dave Ryan said only "extreme" emergencies were exempt from the ban. Police are also exempt while on duty. "Other than that, it's an $80 fine plus 30 demerits."

But Mr Ryan said the police would not take any action against Mr Wood unless they received a complaint and had enough evidence for a prosecution.

Mr Darby said: "Auckland Council has got some really big issues in front of it - every elected member worth his salt has got his head down doing the hard yards, not filling up his Facebook page."

Cellphone driving ban

November 1, 2009

Penalty for breaches
$80 fine plus 30 licence demerit points

Phone-related road deaths
At least 28 since early 2007 including two last year

Offence notices
About 12,500 a year, compared with 7710 in the first 12 months of the ban.

- NZ Herald

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