Bevan Hurley is the Herald on Sunday chief reporter.

Police deny ticket quota

Coincidence, not quota, on eve of cellphone blitz.

Sam Murdie with his car and iPhone. He is angry at being fined for taking a photograph of a crash scene. Photo / Doug Sherring
Sam Murdie with his car and iPhone. He is angry at being fined for taking a photograph of a crash scene. Photo / Doug Sherring

Police in two Auckland crime districts have pulled off the uncanny feat of issuing exactly the same number of tickets in the past year.

New data shows 2157 cellphone infringement tickets were issued in the separate police districts of Auckland and Waitemata between November 1, 2011, and October 25, 2012.

Even more strangely, in the previous year, Auckland police issued only one fewer, 2156.

The figures might suggest a police quota, but Superintendent Carey Griffiths said it was simply a "coincidence".

"While police from time to time may conduct specific operations targeting texting drivers - in just the same way as they focus on other behaviours, such as speed and alcohol as part of wider road safety initiatives - there are no 'targets' set."

Police have announced a one-week blitz against cellphone use in cars starting tomorrow.

Auckland University statistics associate professor David Scott said the figures stood out, but he saw no pattern to suggest quotas. "Rare events happen: the same person can win Lotto twice."

Meanwhile, a motorist recently ticketed after taking a photograph of a crash while stuck in traffic has vowed to fight the fine.

Auckland student Sam Murdie said he had been stopped in traffic for several minutes after a truck crash at the Takanini on ramp on November 7.

When he received a text message, Murdie said he glanced at his screen without opening the text.

However, he then took a photograph of the crash site.

A police officer had approached Murdie's car and said he was being issued with an instant fine of $80 for texting while driving, plus 20 demerit points.

Murdie said: "I know I'm not paying their fine, but that's not what I'm annoyed about.

"I'm more annoyed with cops blatantly not knowing the rules they're meant to be enforcing." And the law appears to be in his side.

On the New Zealand Transport Agency website, it advises motorists who are stuck in traffic due to the road being blocked "for example because of an accident" that they may use their mobile phone to make, send and receive calls and text messages if the vehicle has stopped for a reason other than the normal starting and stopping of vehicles in a flow of traffic.

That does not apply when drivers are stationary in the normal flow of traffic, such as approaching intersections, traffic lights or roadworks.

A total of 11,342 drivers were fined for cellphone use in the year to the end of October. That's up from 9497 the year before, and 7710 in the first year mobile use in cars was banned.

- Herald on Sunday

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