Cellphone drivers cause 182 crashes

By Vaimoana Tapaleao

Photo / Richard Robinson
Photo / Richard Robinson

Drivers are flouting the ban on hand-held cellphones - new figures show a phone-related car crash almost every two days, dozens of injuries and five deaths last year.

There were 182 crashes caused by motorists on phones between November 1, 2009 - when the use of hand-held phones in cars was outlawed - and December 8 last year.

Five people died while 12 of the crashes caused serious injuries and 46 of the crashes caused minor injuries, according to the figures released by the Ministry of Transport to the Herald under the Official Information Act.

The figures are only a slight improvement on the previous year - before phones were banned - when there were 254 crashes, five of which were fatal.

Two people were killed in cellphone-related crashes less than a month after the ban became law. In the first five months, more than 3000 motorists were fined $80 each and lost 20 demerits for using their phones.

Counties Manukau road policing manager Heather Wells said the statistics showed the ongoing risk that many motorists continued to take.

"It's really sad that people are crashing because other people are using cellphones - or killing themselves just because they're using a phone," Ms Wells said.

"It's become like a secondary thing that now people have cellphones, they can't bear to have them ring or a text go without knowing: 'hey, who is it?' or 'what do they want?'

"People have just grown so attached to it. It's like a very big habit. If you're like that, the best thing to do is to get a hands-free [kit] put in your car."

In just one hour last July, the Herald observed 50 motorists using their phones on a busy stretch of Auckland motorway - 33 were texting and 17 were talking. The situation has not improved - Herald photographers snapped many others doing the same thing again yesterday.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce said last night it was still early days for the ban and that legislation was never "an immediate silver bullet on the road".

"If that was the case, then once we passed a law, there would be no speeding and no drink driving. The reality is, all these initiatives involve law-making, enforcement and a behaviour change from drivers," Mr Joyce said.

Ms Wells said police officers were regularly seeing cars "wandering in lanes" and said those drivers were being irresponsible and unfair to other people around them.

Texting was even more irresponsible, she said, given the person was paying more attention to the phone than the road.

"They're not looking, they're not concentrating - they're concentrating on their spelling."

Authorities have been encouraging the public to buy hands-free cellphone kits for their cars.

A graphic television campaign is also currently screening in which a male driver is killed as he speaks to his wife on a cellphone.

Data from previous years shows cellphones have long been a contributing factor in car accidents.

In 2005, 10 people were killed in accidents in which cellphone use was a major factor in the crash. In 2007, there were eight deaths. That same year, there were 222 non-injury crashes involving cellphones and 101 accidents which resulted in injuries.

- NZ Herald

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