Bay drivers continue to illegally use their phones despite distraction being a prominent factor in recent crashes, police say.

The Bay of Plenty Times Weekend yesterday reported that 25 people had died in crashes in the Bay of Plenty police district this year - the highest toll of any district in the country.

Distraction was a prime factor in many crashes in the Bay and a "major concern" for police was people who continued to illegally use their phones while driving.

In a 30-minute period yesterday, the Bay of Plenty Times Weekend saw 11 drivers who appeared to be using their phones driving through the Cameron Rd and 9th Ave roundabout.


Five were talking on their phones and six were seen looking down at their laps and looked as if they were texting or instant messaging.

Three drivers were also not wearing a seatbelt.

More than 700 drivers were fined for using their phones illegally in the Western Bay last year, the most recent police data available. The fines totalled $58,000.

Inspector Brent Crowe, the Bay of Plenty roading policing manager, said cellphone use while driving had become a "major concern" for police.

"From our observations, people flouting the ban is pretty much widespread. We will continue to take a zero-tolerance approach to those who do so, as it not only puts themselves at risk but other road users."

Crowe said distractions featured prominently in recent crashes in the Bay of Plenty region.

"We need every road user to be solely focused on driving their vehicle, and to put their cellphones away," he said.

Joint Road Safety Committee chairwoman Margaret Murray-Benge said she despaired when she saw people talking on their phones, particularly with children in their car.

"I see it all the time and there is absolutely no excuse for this risky illegal behaviour."

AA's Bay of Plenty district council member Terry Molloy said he would like to see police take away the license of anyone caught texting and to make the person walk home.

Molloy said he would personally also like to see the infringement amount increased.

Caroline Perry, director road safety advocacy charity Brake New Zealand, said she was disappointed but "not surprised" by the numbers caught flouting the ban.

"Some people are so addicted to their cellphone they have to use it 24/7," she said.

Perry urged people to ensure their cellphone was well out of reach so they were not tempted to use it.

Nationally 58,000 were pinged for using their cellphone while driving last year.

Mobile phone offences in the Western Bay police district:

2014: 367

2015: 638

2016: 717

2017: 702

2018: 736

Source: NZ Police