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Damning insight into a road-safety epidemic

Some of the police officers taking part in Operation No Phone Zone. PHOTO/GRACE PRIOR

Risky actions on the road
105 Wairarapa drivers caught using cellphones

SOUMYA BHAMIDIPATI
[email protected]

More than 100 drivers were caught using a mobile phone during a two-week police operation in Wairarapa last month.

Operation No Phone Zone, which ran from October 12-25, also highlighted several other infringements, including 502 people exceeding the speed limit, 24 suspended or disqualified drivers behind the wheel, and 76 people wrongly using seatbelts.

Overall, there were 856 driving infringements.

Wellington District road policing manager Inspector Wade Jennings said a driver’s focus needed to be on the road.

“By driving distracted on your phone, you are putting yourself, passengers, and all other road users around you at risk,” Jennings said.

“Nobody wants to share the road with a driver who isn’t paying full attention.”

Police were disappointed by the overall driving behaviour of many road users.

“Particularly, there was a high number of people speeding across the Wairarapa region.”

A small change in speed made a big difference to how severe injuries would be in a crash, Jennings said.

“For you and everyone else involved, less speed means less harm. If you crash, whether it’s your fault or not, your speed will directly impact everyone’s chance of survival.

“Even when speed doesn’t cause the crash, it is the single biggest determinant in whether you walk away or carried away.”

Police would continue to have a strong presence on the roads to ensure safer journeys in the lead-up to the holiday period, he said.

Wairarapa Road Safety Council manager Bruce Pauling, who attended this operation and a similar one last year, said there were more instances of drivers using mobile phones.

“Last year, there were 31 tickets issued for illegal cellphone use by local drivers,” Pauling said.

In the latest operation, “we saw 105 tickets issued for the same offences across our townships.

“This is a pretty damning insight into the scale of this road-safety epidemic.”

He said he saw drivers in Carterton using their phones as they approached and negotiated a roundabout, having just driven through a pedestrian crossing.

“This is extremely dangerous driver-behaviour and shows the levels of absolute addiction we have for these devices when we are looking down at our screens and not checking for pedestrians or other
vehicles at intersections.”

Data around the number of crashes due to mobile phone use may not be accurate, as many crashes were not attributed to drivers using phones if there was no obvious evidence, Pauling said.

“Somehow this has to stop … we need to take drivers to task if we are passengers as well. Tell the driver it’s not okay and to put their phones away.”

National Students against Dangerous Driving [Sadd] ambassador and Wairarapa SADD member James Graham agreed.

He hoped Sadd’s recently developed e-learning tool – called Drive In The Moment – would help to reduce crashes by challenging Kiwis to reassess their in-car cellphone use.

“Distracted driving is a roading issue that continues to be on the rise, and especially when cellphones are involved.

“Drive In The Moment is a great way to hold yourself accountable for your actions on the road.”

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