Sam Boyer

Sam Boyer is a police reporter for the NZ Herald.

Driven to distraction: Tickets rise for texting drivers

The Herald watched motorway traffic between 11.40am and 12.40pm on Thursday, and caught 49 drivers distracted by their phones. Photos / Richard Robinson
The Herald watched motorway traffic between 11.40am and 12.40pm on Thursday, and caught 49 drivers distracted by their phones. Photos / Richard Robinson

The average number of monthly tickets for drivers using their phones has almost doubled since 2010, when the law was changed to make it illegal.

More than 1100 drivers on average were ticketed every month last year for using their phones - up from an average of 684 a month in 2010.

Road Safety Week began today, and the appeals target this year is distracted drivers.

In a survey on Thursday the Herald spotted 49 drivers over a one-hour period who were distracted by their mobile phones.

Caroline Perry, director of road safety charity Brake, said the aim of the week was to prevent crashes "caused by multi-tasking at the wheel".

Read more:
Dozens snapped on motorway using cellphones

"We live in an age when being constantly connected is the norm. More and more of us have smartphones and find it hard to switch off, even for a minute.

"Many people who wouldn't dream of drink-driving are succumbing to using their phone and other distractions while driving, oblivious that the effect can be similar and the consequences just as horrific," Ms Perry said.

"We're calling on New Zealand drivers to tune into road safety: turn off your phone or put it on silent, keep it out of reach, and never try to multi-task at the wheel.

"We're also appealing to everyone to refuse to chat to someone on the phone who's driving, to help them arrive safely."

The Herald's survey was taken from the Hopetoun St bridge of drivers heading north into the city on State Highways 1 and 16.

We clocked 33 talking on their phones and 16 texting or reading their phones during the mid-day survey, as drivers travelled along the 80km/h stretch of road.

During the survey, the traffic was free-flowing without delays or congestion.

Acting national manager road policing Inspector Peter McKennie said the risky behaviour - which included one man driving holding a cigarette out the window with one hand and talking on his phone with the other - was "concerning".

"Driving ... needs your full attention. Too often our officers attend horrific crashes because people have been distracted behind the wheel.

"No text message, phone call or conversation which distracts a driver is worth dying for, or risking a lifelong injury."

Road Safety Week is co-ordinated by Brake, with support from the police and the New Zealand Transport Agency and is sponsored by QBE Insurance.

The appeal follows on the heels of two serious crashes in Waikato last week and a fatal crash in the Bay of Plenty a fortnight ago, where police say cellphones were contributing factors.

AA spokesman Dylan Thomsen said distracted drivers were the biggest road safety risk.

"A huge number of crashes that leave people dead or injured involve a law-abiding, sober driver being momentarily distracted or not seeing something on the road around them. Its about keeping your eyes and mind on the road, not using your cellphone and not trying to do other tasks while you're driving.

"Keeping at least a two-second following distance is really important as well, so you have more time to react if something unexpected happens."

Texting numbers

13,518 tickets issued by police last year for drivers using their phones

11% of crashes in 2013 had "diverted attention of a driver" as a contributing factor, resulting in 21 deaths, 175 serious injuries and 1149 minor injuries

In 2012 the social cost of crashes involving a distracted driver was about $315 million

2008-12 Between 2008-2012, 79 cyclists and 8 pedestrians were involved in crashes where their attention was diverted, resulting in 1 cyclist and 4 pedestrians dying.

Source: Police and Ministry of Transport

- NZ Herald

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