Smoking, cellphones, fiddling with radios play big part in road crashes

By Alanah Eriksen, Alanah May Eriksen

Hundreds of car crashes occurred last year because of driver distractions such as smoking cigarettes, playing with the radio or talking on a cellphone.

And 147 were caused by drivers showing off by racing or pulling "doughnuts", crash figures from last year released by the Ministry of Transport show.

Drivers who lost control or failed to give way were the most common factors in injury crashes. Losing control was also the most common factor in fatal crashes.

Despite the police drink-driving campaign, alcohol and drugs were a factor in 30 per cent of all road crash deaths last year, up 2.6 per cent from 2006. The figures show 15- to 19-year-olds are the worst drink-driving offenders, followed by 20- to 24-year-olds.

The second equal most common factors in injury crashes were driver distraction and drivers not seeing the other party.

Driver distractions included smoking cigarettes, playing with the radio, reaching into the glove-box, looking at someone or scenery outside the vehicle, batting animals or insects away, being emotionally upset and talking or texting on a cellphone.

The Government is consulting New Zealanders over whether to ban hand-held cellphones at the wheel.

Ministry of Transport spokesman David Crawford said the submissions would be analysed and reported back to Transport Minister Annette King within the next six months.

"This is a move that needs to be done. If you're talking on a cellphone you are distracted but it's a similar distraction to changing a CD, talking to people in a car. But when you start texting or reading an email it requires four times the amount of cognitive effort. It stretches a person's capability to text and continue to drive safely."

The crash figures also showed that hundreds of Kiwis drove vehicles unfit for the road. About 600 crashes occurred because of "vehicle factors" such as worn tyre tread and inadequate or no headlights. Picking the children up from school and driving home from work are among the most dangerous times to be on the road.

Between 3pm and 6pm is the most common time for injury but the most deadly is Saturdays and Sundays between midnight and 1am.

* 262: smoking a cigarette, playing with radio or using glove box.
* 147: showing off (including 46 racing and 25 doing doughnuts).
* 130: looking at someone/scenery outside the vehicle.
* 96: on a cellphone or two-way communication device.
* 93: emotionally upset.
* 30: distracted by an animal/insect inside the vehicle.
* 16: trying unsuccessfully to commit suicide.

- NZ Herald

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