I've done it. I have an $80 fine to prove it. And I'm not alone.

Despite the fact that using mobile phones in cars has been illegal since 2009, the numbers flouting the law are on the rise. In 2013, 13,953 people were fined and received demerit points for using a phone inside a motor vehicle; last year that number rose to 21,538. And that's just the ones who were caught.

Take a look at your fellow motorists on any given day, in any town or city. Doesn't matter how short the trip, you're guaranteed to see someone on their phone. They'll be old or young, professionals or tradies and they can be of any ethnicity.

It's easy enough to spot the texters. Their cars slow down and speed up erratically as they send and receive texts and their heads bob up and down like the pretend dogs used to do in the back windows of Morris Oxfords.


The texters are generally younger. They're on the sort of plans that offer thousands of free texts but the price of calls is prohibitive. So they text. Surreptitiously. It's only the jerky motion of the car and the bobbing heads that give them away.

Those who choose to talk on their phones are obvious. One hand on the wheel, the other with a phone pressed to their ear, talking animatedly as they negotiate city traffic. They are of the "it's just a quick conversation. I won't get caught. Besides, it's only $80" school of thought.

And then there are the David Cunliffe types - putting the phone on loudspeaker, placing it somewhere on your person and having shouty conversations with the poor person at the other end. That too is illegal, as Cunliffe discovered when he got an infringement notice this year.

The mad thing is that most of us can afford a hands-free kit. And most of us can install it in the car. I'm ashamed to say I had two hands-free kits on my desk in my office when I was picked up for finishing a conversation with my daughter as I drove out of a car park.

And yet, like me, a lot of New Zealanders seem reluctant to use the technology that would make them safer on the roads.

The law forbidding people to use mobile phones in their vehicles is not just a petty, revenue-gathering sort of a law. There is a real link between mobile phone use and crashes. In 2013, driver inattention was responsible for 15 per cent of fatal crashes and 18 per cent of injury crashes, according to New Zealand Transport Agency figures - and although not all distractions are of the mobile phone variety, a significant number are.

A man rang me to say he is haunted that his wife died as a result of a crash - and that he had phoned her seconds before she crashed.

I grew up in an age before mobile phones were ubiquitous and I simply cannot believe that society was able to function before the invention of the smart phone. But surely we can survive switching off our phones for a car trip - and if we can't, the technology exists to allow us to stay in contact with the world while we're travelling from A to B.


Police and motoring experts say that using mobile phones while driving is dangerous. Perhaps the penalties need to reflect that. An $80 fine doesn't indicate the seriousness of the offending. A $200 fine - or on-the-spot confiscation of the phone - would surely get us to change our ways.

Kerre McIvor is on Newstalk ZB, Monday-Thursday, 8pm-midnight.