Concern at lax views on phone use

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Driving distractions . . . A road safety leader says society needs to change its lax attitude towards phone use while driving. PHOTO: NATASHA PARRANT

by Helen Holt

A road safety leader says society needs to drive an attitude change about texting behind the wheel.

South Canterbury Road Safety co-ordinator Daniel Naude said drivers’ phone use was incredibly problematic.

“I do a lot of driving and I see it everywhere, not just South Canterbury.

“The biggest problem is drivers don’t see it as an issue, or think they’re better drivers than they are.”

Fines for phone use while driving increased from $80 to $150 on April 30, and continue to attract 20 demerit points as well.

Mr Naude said he hoped the increase would make a difference.

“The fines may put some people off, but others will also say that it is a small amount of money and there’s a slim chance of getting caught.”

He said mobile phone offences in some Australian states had dropped significantly since the fine was increased to $1000.

Mr Naude said a study by the University of Utah found that phone use affected drivers’ reaction times as badly as alcohol.

“It’s all about reaction time,” Mr Naude said.

“Driving at 50kmh is 14 metres per second, so if you look at a phone for one second, that’s enough time for a child or dog to run on to the road.”

“If your phone call is really that important, just pull over and answer it. You’re prioritising your phone conversation over everyone else’s safety.”

Mr Naude said the police could not be there all the time.

“We shouldn’t do things just because we’re scared of getting caught. If we only did things just because the police are there, that’s a sad day for society.

“It needs to come from societal attitudes, just like drink-driving. If people continue to joke about it, then nothing will change.”

Between January and December 2020, 1246 fines for mobile phone offences were handed out in Mid South Canterbury, among 40,900 nationally.

Mid-South Cantabrians paid a total of $96,640 in fines for mobile phone offences throughout 2020.

A Courier reporter recorded cellphone use in cars for 15 minutes at two different intersections on a Monday afternoon.

On Strathallan Corner, nine people were recorded using their phones at the traffic lights heading north in Stafford St.

At the traffic lights on the corner of Wai-iti Rd and Evans St, nine people driving north were seen using their phones in a 15-minute period. Four of those were in sign-written vehicles.

No-one was seen with phones to the ear, but it was common to see people looking at their phones at the traffic lights.

At the time fines were increased, Transport Minister Michael Wood said nearly two dozen people died and 70 were injured from 2015 to 2019 as a result of being distracted by their phone while driving.