Police are shocked at the high numbers of drivers still dividing their attention between cellphones and the road, three years after calling or texting at the wheel was banned.

"That's appalling, isn't it?" said national road policing manager Superintendent Carey Griffiths, when told how in one hour, the Herald counted 29 people using phones while driving north through Auckland's 80km/h central motorway junction yesterday afternoon.

"The question I ask people is, do you want someone driving towards you at 100km/h who is looking at the screen of their phone rather than the road ahead?"

Of the 29 motorists observed yesterday, 25 appeared to be talking on phones and four were texting. Another man was brushing his teeth.


The newspaper's photographic survey was conducted from the Hopetoun St bridge above State Highways 1 and 16, as police traffic patrols began a week-long national crackdown against a practice blamed for 28 road deaths - including two this year- since early 2007.

Mr Griffiths said the number of tickets issued to cellphone offenders had risen steadily since the ban was imposed.

The total for the 12 months to last Thursday was 12,515, compared with 9512 for the previous year, and 7710 in the first 12 months of the ban, which began on November 1, 2009.

The penalty for cellphone offences is an $80 fine and 20 demerit points.

Automobile Association spokesman Dylan Thomsen said that if too many drivers kept failing to realise how risky cellphone use was, higher penalties should be considered.

Mr Griffiths said the police would this week concentrate on "static observation", by parking where they could stop offending drivers safely.

Offenders caught would also be checked for seatbelt use and drink-driving, and would be given little leeway as there was "not a lot of sympathy from us or the public for people on cellphones".

The most blatant texter yesterday was a truckie punching a message into a phone he was holding above his steering wheel.

But he was possibly out-pointed for road peril by a woman who took both hands off her steering wheel to fix her hair while starting the descent to the motorway tunnel under Victoria Park.

Mr Griffiths agreed that cellphones were far from the only source of distraction.

"Cellphones are a highly visible way of demonstrating driver distraction but they are just one of a number of things people do that they shouldn't - like eating or turning and talking to their passengers.

"Driving a car is a serious business and you need your mind on what you are doing, because the consequences of getting it wrong are terrible."

Phoning while driving: Men 13 Women 12
Texting while driving: Men 2 Women 2