More than 56 people a month on average were caught illegally using a cellphone while driving on Rotorua, Eastern Bay and Taupō roads in the first nine months of last year.
As a result, police and other Bay of Plenty road safety advocates are pleading with drivers to put their cellphones down and focus solely on their driving.
The illegal practice not only hits drivers in the pocket with an instant fine of $150 and 20 demerit points, but police say this type of offence was a contributing factor in many road deaths and injury crashes.
The latest road policing figures show for the nine months to September 30, 2021, a total of about 508 drivers in Rotorua, Eastern Bay and Taupō were caught.
In Rotorua, 274 were issued $30,630 worth of infringement notices.
This compared to 269 Rotorua drivers and $21,040 in fines for the 2020 calendar year — about 22 per month.
Another 98 drivers in the Eastern Bay of Plenty were fined $10,560 in total for using cellphones and 136 drivers in Taupō amassed $14,830 in fines for the same nine-month period.
This compared to a total of 269 drivers in Eastern Bay (109) and Taupō (160) in 2020, who received a total of $19,680 worth of infringement notices.
During a recent 30-minute traffic survey by the Rotorua Daily Post Weekend at the intersection of Lake Rd and Fairy Springs Rd, 10 drivers were seen using their cell phones.
Most were observed looking down at their phones while waiting for the green light. One man held the cellphone up to his face while driving through the intersection.
Four drivers were not wearing their seatbelts, and all of these were driving vehicles with one or more passengers.
Several drivers were speaking to their passengers rather than focusing on the road ahead, including two drivers who were eating pies, and one who seemed to be checking her makeup in the rearview mirror.
Meanwhile, speeding drivers on Rotorua, Taupō and Eastern Bay of Plenty roads were fined $2.3 million in the first nine months of 2021, police data also shows.
Some 18,421 drivers were caught speeding on Bay of Plenty roads during that period with Rotorua having the most speedsters, with 8677 drivers issued $980,360 in fines.
Almost 600 drivers in Rotorua were caught not wearing a seatbelt.
The Bay of Plenty police district has one of the worst road tolls in the country.
Ministry of Transport data shows that 31 people lost their lives after crashes on Rotorua, Eastern Bay, Taupō and South Waikato roads last year, compared to 24 deaths in 2020.
Distracted driving, including cellphone use, speeding and alcohol-impaired driving, can be blamed for a lot of the carnage, police say.
Assistant police commissioner Bruce O'Brien said most road crashes were not just caused by high-risk drivers, but lots of mums and dads, brothers and sisters were dying too.
"It can happen in a matter of seconds, a moment of inattention when you pick up your cellphone to answer it or a bad decision about overtaking..."
O'Brien said for some people the message was still not getting through and far too many people were still using their cellphones while driving.
"Unfortunately, cellphone use, excessive speed, people not wearing seatbelts and alcohol are routinely significant contributing factors in fatal and serious injury crashes.
"We have lost 320 people on roads in 2021...We cannot even measure the impact.
"It is incredibly frustrating for the police to see people losing their lives in completely preventable incidents."
O'Brien said he urged people to start having a road safety conversation with their families and to make road safety a priority.
AA Bay of Plenty District Council chairwoman and national convenor Stacey Spall said the latest road policing figures made disturbing reading.
Spall said reducing distraction-related crashes, particularly the illegal use of cellphones, was a "hot topic" for the Automobile Association NZ.
She said a couple of years ago AA New Zealand and Australian Automobile Association undertook a research project which revealed that mobile phone use had become an addiction for some drivers.
"Particularly some younger drivers who are highly active on social media and text regularly. For some people, it's almost like they're physically connected to their phone, and they can't leave it alone or turn it off, even while driving."
Spall said it was disappointing and frustrating that despite our shocking road toll, people continued to take the risk with not only their own life but other road users' lives.
Brake New Zealand's director Caroline Perry earlier said it was frustrating that so many people still chose to put lives at risk on Bay of Plenty roads.
"We need people to slow down, never drive fatigued or after consuming alcohol or drugs, take regular rest breaks, and abide by all the other road rules."
Fourteen people had died on our country's roads so far this year.
This included a pedestrian in Tauranga on January 2 and another person has died after a single-vehicle crash on State Highway 30, south of Rotorua on January 10.
-Additional reporting Maryana Garcia and NZME