Crackdown on distracted driving

Drivers using mobile phones and other devices while behind the wheel will be the target of a national police operation from Monday.

The operation will target driver distraction - including putting on make-up, shaving and reading.

The deadly habit contributed to 12 per cent of crashes in New Zealand last year, despite it being made illegal in 2009, police said in a statement.

National Manager Road Policing Superintendent Steve Greally said officers were noticing a rise in the use of phones, tablets and iPods.

"Given that the law has been in place for more than five years now, there really is no excuse for drivers to keep offending," he said.

Ministry of Transport data showed that last year 'diverted attention' contributed to 1053 crashes - or 12 per cent of all crashes.

In those, 22 people were killed and 191 were serious injured.

The social cost of those crashes was $297 million - about 9 per cent of the cost associated with all crashes.

"However, this is nothing compared to the devastating human cost of the broken families and friends that are left behind when someone is needlessly killed in a crash that could have been prevented, and that is what police are focusing on," said Mr Greally.

"While mobile technology has increasingly allowed us all to stay connected, no text, call or social media update is so important that it's worth risking life and limb for - or those of others on the road."

Current legislation allows the use of hands-free devices, but police recommend drivers minimise the potential for distraction by either switching phones off while driving, or pulling over to make or receive calls.

It was illegal to text or use a mobile phone when driving - even when a car is stationary at traffic lights or in a queue, Mr Greally said.

Anyone seen by police using a mobile phone while driving can expect to be stopped and handed an $80 fine and 20 demerit points.

A New Zealand driver licence is automatically suspended for three months is 100 demerit points are accumulated within two years.

"But this campaign is not about issuing notices - for which we don't get a cent - it's about encouraging people to change their behaviour," he said.

"In fact, we'd be really happy to never have to issue another notice, as it would show that drivers are staying focussed on the road ahead, not on their phone, which makes us all safer."

Behaviours including applying makeup, shaving, reading and being distracted by passengers were also frequent driver distractions encountered by police.

"Although there is no specific infringement offence for these other types of distractions, they can result in a more serious charge of careless driving, which requires a court appearance."

Careless driving carries a fine of up to $3000 fine and the potential for licence disqualification.

"However, more importantly, this is not all that these distracted drivers are risking - they are also at much greater risk of a fatal or serious crash if not paying full attention to driving, which could have tragic or life-altering consequences for them or other road users."

Police will also be on the lookout for other high risk behaviours, such as people not wearing their safety belts and failing to stop at intersections.

- By the New Zealand Herald

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