Eastern Bay drivers are becoming increasingly blase about talking on their phones or texting while driving, five years after the practice became illegal.

Whakatane Senior Sergeant Yvonne Parker said police were aware more people had become blase about the rules around driving and cellphones.

“When the law was introduced in November 2009 compliance rates were high,” Mrs Parker said. “But this has dropped off.”

Police statistics to September 2014 show a steady increase in the number of people fined for using their cellphones while driving.

In November and December 2009 a total of seven people were fined, in 2010 the number increased to 14, in 2011 it again increased to 32, in 2012 a total of 43 people were caught, the number rose to 47 in 2013 and, up until September last year 40 Eastern bay people had been given infringement notices.

“We do have police operations targeting drivers talking and texting while driving and members of the public continue to inform us when they see it happening,” Mrs Parker said.

“We are also aware compliance is dropping off.”

The penalty for driving while using a cellphone is an $80 fine and 20 demerit points. Since 2009, police have issued fines totalling $109,440 to drivers on Western Bay roads.

Bay of Plenty road policing manager Inspector Kevin Taylor said drivers failed to understand the danger involved with using a cellphone while driving and the practice had been a factor in several fatal crashes in the Bay of Plenty during the last few years.

“They don’t associate that with being a risk until you crash, and then it’s too late. It’s a classic Kiwi attitude – it’s someone else, not me.”

Driving while using a phone was “dumb” and “didn’t make sense”, he said.
“It’s not a clever thing to do, particularly taking your mind off the job at hand. There are only so many things you can concentrate on at the same time. Your concentration is elsewhere.”

Cellphone-using drivers rarely argued when stopped by police.
“Most people don’t have an excuse because they know they’re caught,” Mr Taylor said.

That included those making sneaky attempts to flout the law.

“Hands-free does not mean putting it on the speaker and throwing it on the dashboard,” he said.

AA general manager of motoring affairs, Mike Noon, said drivers were divided into two groups: those who obeyed the law, and those who supported the idea but took the risk thinking they wouldn’t get caught.

“The best solution here is not that the police have to go out and catch everyone, but that drivers get the message about the risk.”

Mr Noon said phone calls – even through a hands-free kit – should be kept to a minimum, especially in heavy traffic or poor weather.
“Any conversation on a phone, even if it’s on a hands-free, is distracting,” he said.

There were still a “huge” number of crashes in New Zealand where cellphone use was a factor.

Provided they survived, drivers causing crashes could face a careless driving charge and compromise their ability to claim insurance.

– additional reporting Bay of Plenty Times

– Whakatane News