Cellphones and Crashes

The Herald reports:

The number of fatal crashes on Auckland roads has risen sharply after a two-year lull, and say cellphone use is partly to blame.

Okay. Now I am open to that observation being correct, so what are the stats:

Fifty-four people have been killed this year in the region – just one down on the toll for the whole of 2008 and seven fewer than in 2007.

So crashes are definitely up.

Crash investigators say they have anecdotal evidence that more and more motorists are talking and texting on cellphones while behind the wheel.

Why give us anecdotal evidence only? Every crash is recorded and likely factors also recorded. Surely someone can produce stats for the first six months of the year in Auckland and give us hard data.

I get suspicious when I see stories like this, with no hard data behind them.

Mr Macdonald had also noticed an increase in pedestrians killed crossing the road while talking on the phone.

So will the Police advocate talking on a phone while outdoors be an offence?

Sergeant Stu Kearns of the Waitemata serious crash unit said his staff obtained warrants to search cellphone records whenever practical.

“I think it is a good practice in crashes where serious injuries or fatalities [occur] that you get a warrant to check cellphones.”

An excellent idea. The more data we have on the cause of crashes, the better decisions based on that data will be.

Roading policing staff have also spotted motorists applying make-up, reading newspapers or maps and engaged in amorous activity while behind the wheel.

Which is why I prefer a law targeting all driver distractions.

Police Association president Greg O’Connor said a ban on hand-held phones in cars was inevitable, but would be met with reluctance.

“The problem with the public is that they want everyone else banned from using a cellphone but not them and it won’t stop them from getting upset when they’re issued with a ticket for doing it.”

Or it might be they are aware of the scientific evidence that banning hands free phones are as “dangerous” as hand held phones. I have a hands free phone so any ban won’t affect me, but I think it is a tokenistic response. One should either ban all phones, or (preferably) have a tougher law dealing with all distractions. Targeting hand held phones only is unlikely to make much of an impact in my opinion.

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