Mes­sage not get­ting through

Guilty of us­ing your mo­bile in the car, de­spite the 2009 law change? What needs to hap­pen be­fore Auck­lan­ders start tak­ing it se­ri­ously? Jenny Ling re­ports.

Central Leader - - NEWS -

Your mo­bile phone rings when you’re drop­ping the kids off at school or driv­ing home from work. What do you do?

Ev­ery year thou­sands of Auck­lan­ders suc­cumb to temp­ta­tion by pick­ing up their phones or re­ply­ing to text mes­sages while driv­ing. They are be­ing pun­ished for it with fines of $80 and 20 demerit points.

‘‘There are still far too many people us­ing cell­phones both for tex­ting and for con­ver­sa­tions,’’ Au­to­mo­bile As­so­ci­a­tion spokesman Mike Noon says.

‘‘There was big aware­ness when it first came in [in Novem­ber 2009]. I think people have just got com­fort­able again.

‘‘It’s a prob­lem that’s not ac­tu­ally fixed yet.’’

Ac­cord­ing to Min­istry of Trans­port fig­ures, mo­bile phones were a con­tribut­ing fac­tor in 89 se­ri­ous crashes in Auck­land in the three years be­fore the ban.

Of these crashes four people died and eight people were se­ri­ously in­jured.

In the three years af­ter the ban, there were 67 crashes which again re­sulted in four deaths and left eight people se­ri­ously in­jured.

Since the ban, the num­ber of fines is­sued by po­lice has climbed steadily in the Auck­land po­lice districts which in­clude Auck­land city, Coun­ties Manukau and Waitem­ata.

Po­lice is­sued 2229 tick­ets from Novem­ber 2009 to June 2010. That jumped to 4842 in the July 2010 to June 2011 fi­nan­cial year while 5237 people copped fines dur­ing the 2011-12 fi­nan­cial year.

Auck­land city district road polic­ing man­ager In­spec­tor Re­gan James says the prac­tice needs to be­come so­cially un­ac­cept­able.

‘‘There needs to be a wide­spread mind­set that it’s an un­ac­cept­able prac­tice so ev­ery­body takes re­spon­si­bil­ity.

‘‘It doesn’t have to be the driver, it could be the pas­sen­ger re­mind­ing them in a po­lite man­ner of the risks.’’

But many are pre­pared to take the risk, be­liev­ing they won’t get caught.

The lat­est Trans­port Min­istry’s Pub­lic At­ti­tudes to Road Safety Sur­vey found nearly half of the 1670 people sur­veyed be­lieved it un­likely they would be caught if us­ing a hand-held cell­phone or tex­ting while driv­ing.

‘‘I see so many people driv­ing with phones, it’s in­cred­i­ble,’’ New Wind­sor mum Kat Mar­shall says.

‘‘I think it’s very tricky to en­force as well.’’

‘‘I don’t think it’s go­ing to go away ... it’s go­ing to get worse,’’ Mt Eden shop­per David Steven­son says.

‘‘It of­ten takes be­ing in an ac­ci­dent be­fore you stop do­ing it or know some­one close to you that’s been hurt badly.’’

The AA is call­ing for more po­lice cam­paigns to raise aware­ness of the dan­gers. Mr Noon says people of­ten ig­nore the law be­cause of peer pres­sure to an­swer their phones.

‘‘Young people par­tic­u­larly . . . the prob­lem they have is if they don’t an­swer their mates bomb them.

‘‘It’s some­thing we re­ally need to get into their psy­che. Tex­ting and driv­ing could ruin your life.’’

Some say the law doesn’t go far enough.

Auck­land Univer­sity as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of psy­chol­ogy Tony Lam­bert was one of seven New Zealand aca­demics and sci­en­tists who made a sub­mis­sion to the govern­ment urg­ing a ban on hands-free de­vices.

The group pointed to more than 30 sci­en­tific stud­ies which found driv­ers are sim­i­larly im­paired us­ing hands-free and hand-held phones.

‘‘There’s no real dif­fer­ence in risk be­tween us­ing hand held and hands-free phones,’’ Mr Lam­bert says.

‘‘One of the things people need to know is the hands-free op­tion is not a safe op­tion.

‘‘It’s about the same as driv­ing drunk.’’

As­so­ciate Trans­port Min­is­ter Michael Wood­house, re­spon­si­ble for road safety, urged driv­ers to put their cell­phones away in De­cem­ber af­ter a Trans­port Min­istry sur­vey of 29,000 mov­ing ve­hi­cles found one in ev­ery 40 driv­ers us­ing a cell­phone. Though he agrees ‘‘too many New Zealan­ders are still us­ing their mo­bile phones while driv­ing’’ there are no plans to in­crease the penalty or ban hands-free driv­ing.

Photo: ANDY JACK­SON

Preva­lent prob­lem: Driv­ers con­tinue to flout the law putting them­selves and oth­ers at risk.

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