Drivers checking devices ‘delusional’

HAYLEY GASTMEIER
hayley.gastmeier@age.co.nz
Despite years of safety messages, Wairarapa drivers have still not got the message about seatbelts and cellphones.

Acting Wairarapa Area Commander Detective Inspector Scott Miller said police were dealing with increasing numbers of drivers using cellphones, and some continued to drive without seatbelts.

Both offences were major contributors to serous crashes and road deaths.

“It always amazes me how many people we see on cellphones not wearing seatbelts, and it’s not just young people,” he said.

Last year police dished out 640 infringement notices to Wairarapa drivers who were not wearing seatbelts, or had a passenger not strapped in, with fines totalling $93,450.

“Probably 100 people who die in serious road accidents per year are not wearing seatbelts, and that includes people not wearing seatbelts in the back seats as well as the front,” Mr Miller said.

Police statistics on tickets issued to Wairarapa drivers using their cellphones show numbers have increased each year since it was banned nine years ago.

This is partly due to the issue being targeted by police, Mr Miller said.

Cellphone use was banned in November 2009, with a penalty made up of an $80 fine and 20 demerit points. Six cellpone offences were recorded in the region before the end of the year.

That figure ballooned to 112 in 2017, with fines totalling $8480.

Mr Miller said the figures would be a lot higher if the instances in which people were pulled over and not fined were included.

“The big focus for us when we stop people is to talk to them and tell them that we want them to be safe . . . [we] basically try to get them to comply, and we won’t give tickets to them if we can have a really good conversation with them and make them understand — it’s a prevention thing for us.”

Repeat offenders, or people refusing to talk to police, or take notice of police advice, were sure to face penalties.

“We try to be as helpful and safety-minded as we can, but we can’t obviously ignore all offending.”

Police focus on four main areas in their national road strategy — distraction (including cellphones), restraints (seatbelts), speed, and impairment (driving while under the influence of drugs or alcohol).

“We put our resources into the top-end serious stuff that’s really going to hurt people,” Mr Miller said.

According to Wairarapa Road Safety Council, around one-third of people who die on New Zealand roads are not wearing seatbelts.

Road safety council manager Bruce Pauling said, worryingly, this was an increasing trend.

In 2009, police figures show 600 Wairarapa people were fined for failing to buckle up.

Between now and then the figures have fluctuated, peaking in 2014 at 911, when fine totalled $135,000.

Wairarapa Offending

Mr Pauling said the “make it click” messages, used for many years, was still not getting through to some people. It was up to the driver to ensure everyone in their vehicle was properly restrained, he said.

“The forces involved in crashes mean severe injury or death can occur even at lower speeds if occupants don’t belt up.”

He said no demerit points were attached to seatbelt offences, which was “ludicrous”.

In 2016, “distraction crashes” contributed to 23 fatal crashes and 178 serious injury crashes nationally, Mr Pauling said.

“Illegal and dangerous cellphone use is a real and burgeoning road safety issue.

“Anyone who thinks they are driving safely when texting or looking at their devices are both delusional and putting lives at risk.”

Both police and WRSC advise people to switch their phones off when driving.