Transport Minister Steven
Joyce is making a ban on drivers using hand-held cellphones a
"high priority" and wants action this year.
Mr Joyce said yesterday he would seek rule changes to ban
voice calls and texting, subject to recommendations from
officials and Cabinet approval.
He is expecting a report within weeks from the Ministry of
Transport on public consultations which were overlapped by
the general election in October.
He said he understood there was a "broad level of consensus"
concerning the banning of hand-held cellphone use by drivers.
Although officials were busy preparing recommendations for
public submissions on a range of road safety actions expected
to be taken next year, to reduce dangers such as
drink-driving and excessive speed, Mr Joyce said he was keen
for the cellphone issue to be dealt with in the meantime.
The consultations followed a proposal by the previous
Labour-led administration, but only after years of
discussions, to fine drivers $50 and impose 25 demerit points
for using hand-held phones or personal digital assistants.
Even cellphone giants Vodafone and Telecom came out in
support of bans early last year, after a young man was
convicted of killing an elderly Ashburton couple while
texting and driving under the influence of alcohol.
Road safety researchers have estimated that the risk of
crashing while using a cellphone while driving is between
four and nine times higher.
The research showed that using cellphones while driving made
motorists as impaired as drunk drivers.
Cellphone use was blamed for 96 crashes in 2007, but the
Automobile Association suspected that statistic was
conservative, as it believed the police had only relatively
recently made a routine practice of searching crashed cars
Drivers are still likely to be allowed to use hands-free
connections, despite Waikato University research showing them
to be little or no safer than hand-held cellphones.
AA spokesman Mike Noon accepted there was little difference,
but said the organisation was taking a "practical" view in
considering that a ban on hand-held cellphones supported by
76% of surveyed members would at least deter drivers from
taking their eyes off the road to make calls.
Waikato University road safety researcher Sam Charlton said
cellphone conversations of any kind almost doubled the time
it took drivers to react to hazardous situations.
An extra two seconds would add 55m to the stopping distance
of a driver travelling at 100kmh.
But Dr Charlton said any ban was better than none, and he
hoped that once it was in place, public education would
persuade drivers there was no difference between using
hand-held and hands-free cellphones or facing any other kind
of distraction, "because when you are driving, you really
need to focus on the driving"