Road safety campaigners have taken aim at multi-tasking women who apply make-up behind the wheel - and a Herald on Sunday survey proves how many ways Kiwi drivers can be distracted.

Women applying make-up have been identified as one of four killer distractions on Kiwi roads by the Road Safety Trust. It comes in the wake of a British study that revealed one in five women had applied mascara on the move and three per cent had caused a collision while powdering their nose.

Ministry of Transport figures show cellphones, iPods and food also rate highly as distractions that cause crashes, following behind regular problem areas such as speed, alcohol, recklessness and fatigue.

To test the statistics, the Herald on Sunday this week stationed two photographers on busy intersections in the central city and on the North Shore.

They caught drivers - admittedly while stationary at the lights - eating pies, talking on cellphones, lighting up, drinking from cups and even reading a newspaper.

Road Safety Trust chief executive Alan Tollemache said too many drivers ignored basic common sense.

"One slight distraction when you travelling at speed and you're in trouble. Nothing's that urgent."

The trust commissioned a TV advertisement that depicts a giant make-up compact hurtling into the back of a car before shattering into shards of glass and clouds of powder.

Last year in the United States, Lora Hunt was charged with reckless homicide and handed an 18-month prison term after killing a motorcyclist as she painted her nails behind the wheel.

And in England applying make-up and eating while driving are careless driving offences whether or not an accident is caused.

Ministry of Transport spokesman John Summers said in New Zealand one in 10 fatal crashes and one in five injury crashes were caused by momentary distraction.

"It's likely to contribute to more road deaths and injuries than official statistics show. International research suggests distraction could be a factor in up to 20 per cent of fatal crashes," Summers said.