If you make a call while driving, is it via a hands-free device? If you hear the distinctive beep of an incoming text, can you resist the urge to take a look, and maybe send a quick reply? Are you so addicted to your smartphone apps that while waiting at traffic lights you sneak a peek at Twitter?
On November 1st 2009 the Land Transport (Road User) Amendment Rule came into effect, banning the use of handheld mobile devices. Any driver holding a phone – whether to call, text or download an app – will be fined $80 and receive 20 demerit points on their licence.
But is it enough to change driver behaviour?
ConnectMe asked the top traffic cop in the country, National Manager – Road Policing, Superintendent Paula Rose, if the driver handheld cellphone ban is being obeyed, and if it’s improving traffic safety.
Rose says as part of extensive advertising campaigns run by the New Zealand Land Transport Authority, the Police have given out 100,000 brochures at roadside checkpoints, public events and recruitment stands. In addition the rule has been the subject of widespread media attention, and become a popular topic on talkback radio.
It was implemented before one of the busiest periods for traffic on the country’s roads – the Christmas holiday period – in which there were 13 fatalities. Rose says she has not heard of drivers speaking on cellphones as a contributing factor in any of those fatal crashes.
In the first month of enforcement, police detected just 275 offences. However they remain vigilant about catching drivers ignoring the cellphone ban, because many are beginning to fall back into old habits.
Superintendent Rose has identified the following three categories of drivers – which one are you?
Drivers who obey the law all of the time
The majority of New Zealand drivers are obeying the law. They’ve made the effort to purchase hands-free devices such as earpieces, headsets with microphone solution, GPS navigation solutions that are voice activated, and fully installed hands-free car kits. Alternatively, they’ve simply switched off their phones, or ignored the ringtone until they are safely parked and can take the call.
DriveRs who obey the law most of the time
Rose says that after the initial publicity following the ban, most drivers obeyed the law, but then after a couple of months complacency set in and some began to take the odd call while holding the phone, or sent a quick text. Rose refers to this as Slippage – the temptation to take a risk. But she points out the danger isn’t that these drivers will get caught by police; it’s that they’ll lose concentration and cause a car accident.
Rose was reluctant to draw up a demographic profile about who these offenders are because Police have yet to release confirmed statistics. She hinted that they tended to be younger drivers who were confident texters, but she also pointed out that offenders came from a variety of backgrounds and age brackets. What she was definite about was that drivers over 80 years old are the most unlikely to offend.
Drivers who obey the law none of the time
There is a group of repeat offenders, whom Rose labels as “hard core”. She says they are a small group of people in the community and as they generally tend to thumb their noses at most laws, it’s unlikely they will pay any attention to the handheld cellphone ban on drivers. Rose points out that this group occupies the police’s attention most of the time. She says this is why civilised societies have prisons.