Bus drivers pinged

By Mathew Dearnaley

Using phones, checking papers and writing - while steering with elbows - lead to fines

An errant driver pictured using a cellphone at the wheel. Photo / Barry Bloomfield
An errant driver pictured using a cellphone at the wheel. Photo / Barry Bloomfield

Bus drivers are in the gun for using cellphones and flipping through paperwork while at the wheels of their 12- to 14-tonne vehicles.

The police yesterday confirmed fining drivers of long-distance bus company InterCity, after complaints by a passenger who photographed them using hand-held cellphones and balancing clip-boards on their steering wheels on trips between Auckland and Waikato.

Birkenhead Transport also indicated concern about a driver photographed by the Herald scrutinising a document spread across his steering wheel while carrying a packed bus-load of passengers over a wind- and rain-buffeted Auckland Harbour Bridge yesterday morning.

Company chief Robert Inwards said he would admonish the driver if he could identify him.

Auckland Tramways Union president Gary Froggatt said the union had attended disciplinary hearings this year against four NZ Bus drivers fined by police for using cellphones at the wheel.

He said the union supported that firm's placement of written warnings on the drivers' employment files, to reinforce a new corporate slogan of "Safety first, timetables second".

Mr Froggatt understood the drivers received standard fines from the police of $80, plus 20 demerit points against their licences.

Aucklander Barry Bloomfield said he had no confidence in InterCity's stated willingness to ensure safe practices, given the firm's initial refusal to accept his complaints of cellphone use at the wheel by four drivers on five separate trips he took to or from Cambridge to visit his son and grand-children from October to January.

He said the company's response - after being presented with his photographic evidence - was to complain that he was harassing its drivers by taking pictures of them and then to ban him from travelling on its buses.

Mr Bloomfield, aged 60, said he felt safer riding now on a rival company's buses.

"If I'm driving in a car and see an InterCity bus, I'll move as far to the left of the road as I can."

He recalled writing that he felt "sick in my guts" during a trip from Cambridge to Auckland in December when he photographed a company driver punching in numbers to his hand-held phone while at the wheel.

On another trip, a driver - against whom he laid two complaints with the police and the company alleging unlawful cellphone use - veered into the middle of State Highway 1.

And he photographed a third driver writing on a clipboard raised to eye level while the man used his elbows to try to keep the steering wheel steady.

Acting national road policing manager Peter McKennie confirmed that $80 infringement notices were issued to InterCity drivers, but was unable to say how many.

He said that the police - after "thoroughly and objectively" reviewing Mr Bloomfield's correspondence - considered their action against the InterCity drivers appropriate given the circumstances.

InterCity chief executive Malcolm Johns said that investigations into Mr Bloomfield's complaints found that "whilst the majority of pictures indicated use of radio telephones, a small number were cellphones".

That resulted in police and company warnings against drivers.

"InterCity's policy remains compliant with the law and the company will take action if needed."

Mr Johns said no police action was taken against the company, which promotes itself here and overseas as operator of the country's largest long-distance bus network.

- NZ Herald

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