Cop texting, driving angers public

By Mathew Dearnaley

Police called 'hypocritical' with national blitz on mobile-using drivers in pipeline. Photo / Supplied
Police called 'hypocritical' with national blitz on mobile-using drivers in pipeline. Photo / Supplied

Auckland motorists are seeing red over two more sightings of police officers using cellphones while driving, including one who was photographed texting in heavy traffic in Customs St.

The photographer said the officer was looking down and up while driving on Saturday morning towards a set of traffic lights, where he came to a stop - still texting.

Although the police are exempt from a general ban on using hand-held phones behind the wheel if doing so in the execution of their duties, a national office spokeswoman said the practice was not recommended for non-urgent calls.

And Counties Manukau road policing manager Inspector Heather Wells said that although making calls while driving was sometimes necessary, texting was another matter.

"That's a definite no-no - I wouldn't permit any of my staff to text."

The texting police officer was snapped by an Auckland company manager, who did not want to be named, but was driving in an inside lane behind a patrol car.

"His eyes were constantly looking down," the man said.

"I pulled up beside him at the lights and I said to my partner, that cheeky sod is still texting away, so I poked my camera out the window and boom."

The man sent the photograph to the Herald after reading a report in yesterday's paper that the police are planning a nationwide blitz against civilians who use cellphones while driving.

"We all do it, but it's a bit hypocritical when they are barking about it to do it themselves," he said.

South Auckland resident Frank Galvin said he was concerned to see a police car travelling along Great South Rd in Papakura in moderate traffic yesterday morning, with its driver holding the steering wheel in one hand and a cellphone to his ear with the other.

"I thought, this can't be right, we're supposed to be cracking down on this sort of thing," he said.

"So doing my duty, I thought I'd go and report it to the Papakura police."

But Mr Galvin said he was made to feel a fool by a policewoman and receptionist on duty.

"They said he's probably on a business call, that they are allowed to do that and they are specially trained drivers."

"I'd like to put out a challenge to any police driver to have one hand on the steering wheel and the other with a cellphone in his ear when I whack into his car at 80km/h and see how much control over the car he has."

Mr Galvin said the police officer with the phone did not appear in any great hurry and surely could have pulled off the road to make or take a call.

"They are meant to be setting an example to us."

National road policing spokeswoman Lesley Wallis said legislation exempting staff from the cellphone ban in the course of their duties made no distinction between making voice calls and texting "but it is still recommended that police officers don't do it".

The Auckland road policing management could not be reached for comment, and Inspector Wells said she was reluctant to comment on the texting officer as he was not one of her staff and was operating in a different police district.

She said making voice calls was no different from the long-standing practice of using police radios in patrol cars.

But she believed texting was more dangerous than phoning while driving, as it generally meant having to look down at a mobile phone screen.

The Herald reported yesterday that the police in Auckland have enforced the phone ban much more rigorously than elsewhere, but that a nationwide clampdown is planned for November.

More than 14,000 tickets were issued to offending drivers in the first 21 months of the ban, from late 2009 until the end of July, to a total value of $1.13 million.

- NZ Herald

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