Opening our eyes to distracted drivers

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Words: Nile Bijoux
20 Sep 2019

New Zealand Police are in the middle of a month-long operation to crack down on distracted driving. We went along with some officers to get a better idea of the problem and see what police are doing to counter it.

At the start of the month, police released a statement saying they would be taking an extra focus on distracted drivers. At the time, Inspector Scott Webb said Police are disappointed by the number of drivers taking unnecessary risks by driving distracted on the road. “It’s a problem Police see time and time again. Distraction is a serious road safety issue that can have tragic consequences,” he said.

Last year, driving distraction was a contributing factor in 12 fatal Auckland crashes. Driver distraction was also a contributing factor in 155 serious injury crashes, and 956 minor injury crashes.

Our morning with the police took us to Avondale, with the first event being a response to a nasty T-bone crash that left one car totalled and the other a likely write-off. It was unclear if distracted driving was a factor but the police present didn’t rule it out.

Following that, we moved to a nearby major intersection where two police officers covered their uniforms and watched cars passing for mobile phone use and red light running. At this point, the morning rush had passed, along with the bulk of phone-using drivers, yet they still managed to catch around 20 drivers using devices or running the red light. There were more that they suspected of using devices but couldn’t categorically prove it, so they let them go. At one point, three cars ran the same red arrow when the green light was on to let cars cross the turning path.

Considering we were at the intersection for only an hour at an off-peak time, that’s rather alarming. Factor in that more people are using bicycles or motorbikes to commute. As they are more susceptible to major injuries it paints a worrying picture for road users.

Police say sending or reading a text takes an average of 4.6 seconds. At 90km/h that’s like driving the length of a rugby field blindfolded. Chatting with officers, they said they’ve seen people scrolling through Instagram or Facebook and even watching movies at highway speeds. Seeing the results of the crash earlier in the morning, which likely happened at speeds of around 40km/h, it’s doesn’t bear thinking about what carnage might happen at much higher speeds.

Originally the fine was $150 and no demerits. Evidently many tried to get off back then but fewer do with the $80 fine. However, there’s more loss of licence with the 20 demerit points. It will be interesting to see final statistics after the September operation wraps up. Hopefully, people will put off checking social media while driving. In a car it’s not only illegal but simply not worth the risk.

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