Silly cellphone rules

February 20th, 2013 at 10:00 am by David Farrar

Mathew Dearnaley reports at NZ Herald:

Former North Shore mayor and senior policeman George Wood says he did not realise he was breaking the law by taking a cellphone photograph while driving across the harbour bridge. …

He believed he would have been within the law had he used a standard camera, which would have been harder to operate while driving.

He is correct. Absolutely legal to take a photo on a camera, just not on a cellphone.

This shows the stupidity of a law that targets just one sort of device  mobile phones. The law should focus on all distractions, not just scapegoat cellphones.

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Cellphone driving deaths

January 12th, 2013 at 8:06 am by David Farrar

Tom Hunt at Stuff reports:

Three years into a ban on drivers using handheld cellphones, the number of those caught keeps rising – as does the body count.

Police figures show 28 people have died on New Zealand roads in accidents caused by people using cellphones since 2007.

Annoyingly the story doesn’t give us data capable of backing up the assertion. The ban has been in place for three years and we are told there have been 28 deaths in the last five years. What would be useful is the annual number of deaths for the three years since and the three years before.

The NZ Transport Agency has confirmed it is planning a new campaign specifically targeting driver distraction, with a focus on cellphones.

I always thought educational campaigns were more likely to be effective than a law change targeting just one type of driver distraction.

Road policing national manager Superintendent Carey Griffiths said the rise of smartphones, with which people could check social media and emails, as well as answering text messages and calls, was adding to the problem.

“There is the opportunity for more and more distraction as we are getting more and more wired.”

Figures show in the year to November, 2011, 10,070 drivers were caught.

In the year to last November the figure rose to 12,973.

Mr Griffiths said the number of people caught could be due to more people flouting the law or police keeping a keener eye on it.

Just as one has airline mode for phones, maybe there should be a car mode also that turns off all the alerts but still allows phone calls (which you can do handsfreee)?

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The law should apply to all

February 1st, 2011 at 4:00 pm by David Farrar

Anna Leask in the Herald reports:

A senior police officer has condemned colleagues for using their cellphones while driving, saying it is a joke to go out and enforce the law when officers appear to be readily flouting it.

I agree. I have never been a supporter of the new law, and the fact that Police are basically exempt from it makes it worse.

Another officer has been caught on camera talking on his cellphone at traffic lights. He was filmed by a motorist in West Auckland on Thursday.

“I wound down the window and started recording, I was yelling out trying to get his attention,” said the motorist, who did not want to be identified. “Then the light turned green and he casually drove off, still talking.”

If Police are in an emergency situation, then cellphone use should be okay, but this case shows quite the opposite.

The senior officer said it was unacceptable for police to be using cellphones while driving unless it was a real emergency. “I’m out there telling people off for using their phones while they drive. And yet cops are out there doing it. I am absolutely pissed off by the hypocrisy,” he said.

And shouldn’t Police cars have hand free devices anyway?

The Herald was inundated with emails from readers over the weekend who had spotted officers using their cellphones while driving.

“I actually reported a policeman in a marked police car driving on St Lukes Rd talking on the mobile phone, driving around 65km/h and changing lanes without indicating,” said one.

Another reader concerned about a female officer using her phone on the harbour bridge was disappointed with the response to his official complaint. He was quoted the relevant act.

The exemption for Police is too wide. It should be for emergencies only.

Or they could just scrap the law, and just use the general offence of driving while distracted.

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Do anti-texting laws work?

October 1st, 2010 at 2:00 pm by David Farrar

AP report:

A new study says laws that ban texting while driving don’t reduce wrecks and might actually increase risks.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s claim research arm released its findings Tuesday in Kansas City.

The insurance industry group compiled data from California, Louisiana, Minnesota and Washington immediately before and after driver texting was banned.

The study found the number of crashes actually increased in three of those states after the bans were implemented.

Institute spokesman Russ Rader says the increase might be the result of drivers trying to keep phones out of view while texting.

This is one reason I am sceptical of these laws. Do they actually reduce the number of people who do not use phones in cars?

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Only in New Zealand

August 6th, 2010 at 3:00 pm by David Farrar

is it illegal to drive a motor vehicle and use a cellphone, yet legal to pilot a helicopter and text.

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Hand held cellphone use in cars now illegal

November 1st, 2009 at 8:57 am by David Farrar

The Herald has some details of the new law:

You can not answer or make phone calls with a handheld phone while driving.

Creating, sending or reading texts, email messages or video messages, while driving, is banned.

Making genuine emergency 111 calls is permitted. This includes *555 calls used to report dangerous driving.

Making or receiving calls if the phone is “secured in a mounting fixed to the vehicle” is allowed. This typically means a cradle, or fully integrated systems. But the driver can only manipulate a securely mounted phone “infrequently and briefly”.

Earphones, headsets and mouthpieces attached to phones can be used, provided the driver does not hold or manipulate the phone.

You can use music functions, provided the device is mounted.

Using a phone if stuck in traffic because the road is blocked by an accident or other cause is permitted.

This does not apply when drivers are “stationary in the normal flow of traffic, such as approaching intersections, traffic lights or roadworks”.

Using a phone while on a bike or motorbike is not allowed.

I can’t disagree with the phone on a bike rule!

The law won’t affect me as my phone bluetooths into my stereo, but I still think it will just force a lot of costs onto people, and not decrease the road toll. It will be interesting to see in 2010 how many crashes still cite cellphone use as a factor.

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Police on handheld cellphone ban

October 27th, 2009 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

Police will be using their discretion as motorists adjust to the pending law that bans use of handheld cellphones while driving.

Good. Not that it affects me as I have handsfree.

From Sunday, motorists must have a handsfree device if they want to use their mobile phone. If they’re caught using it without one, they face an $80 fine and 20 demerit points.

I’ve still yet to see any research from overseas showing a reduction in road tolls, after such a law change.

National road policing manager Superintendent Paula Rose said staff had been told that a period to allow the “bedding in” of the legislation was appropriate. …

Ms Rose doesn’t answer the phone when she’s driving. Instead she puts it in the boot, so if it does ring, she can’t get to it to take the call.

Ummm, does the Superintendent’s phone not have an off button? Putting it in the boot seems somewhat unnecessary.

She said she was excited about the new law because New Zealanders might think more about driving safely.

“In policing we’ve seen some really stupid things – people getting changed, putting their makeup on, eating their breakfast.

Personally I think a ban on women applying makeup while driving is more pressing!

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Tom misses the point

September 30th, 2009 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Tom Pullar-Strecker misses the point, in my opinion, with his column that the Govt should ban using mobiles for satnav. He wrote:

Last week, The Dominion Post asked the Transport Ministry whether it would illegal from November to use mobile phones as satellite navigation aids in cars.

The initial response from spokesman John Summers was confusing and ambiguous. But pressed for clarification, Mr Summers consulted colleagues and came back with a clear answer:

“You asked whether a driver can look at a navigation system on a mobile phone even it is securely mounted. The answer is to this is no, not while driving.

“Under the Road User Amendment Rule 2009, you can use a mobile phone held in a cradle (including those that double as a GPS device) while driving but only to make, receive or terminate a phone call.  You cannot use them in any other way such as reading a GPS map, reading email, or consulting an electronic diary.”

I would contend that was a sensible and considered position, and that Transport Minister Steven Joyce’s decision yesterday to cave in from pressure from gadget-fans and amend the rule was a mistake.

I contend it was the exact opposite, and the Minister inserting some common sense into the rule making.

Mr Joyce said it was not the intent of the rule to make it illegal for motorists to use the satellite navigation or music functions of their cellphones, “provided these are mounted in the vehicle and are manipulated infrequently”.

He met with officials and instructed them to “amend the rule accordingly”.

Mr Joyce appears to have  thereby explicitly sanctioned people taking their eyes off the road and looking at instructions on their mobile phone, and tinkering with it, while their vehicle is in motion.

That is arguably more dangerous than people using unmounted cellphones to answer calls, the problem the rule change was originally designed to tackle.

Well I’m no fan of the cellphone ban anyway, but there is a big difference between using a device to chat to someone not in the car, and using a device to tell you where to drive.

If Tom thinks there should be no tinkering in cars, will he support banning all car radios?

How long does Mr Joyce believe it would be safe for people to take their eyes off the road? Say it takes 2 seconds to absorb the visual information from a smartphone doubling as a SatNav. In that time a car travelling at 50km will travel 27 metres.

That could be the two seconds during which a child steps out in front of the vehicle.

But here is where Tom misses the point.  The Government has never intended to ban the use of GPS devices in cars. If we did so, we would be the laughing stock of the world as the most common consumer use of GPS is for car navigation. And imagine the impact on tourism as tourists are told they can not use GPS to find their way around – but instead have to use maps.

Incidentally far more dangerous for a driver to be looking at maps while driving, than a GPS device.

You see the stupidity of the draft rule is that using your cellphone for GPS navigation would have been illegal, but using a dedicated GPS navigation device would not be illegal. Now it is, and was, daft to differentiate. An iPhone, for example, has just as large a display screen as some dedicated GPS devices.

This makes as much sense as having a rule saying you can’t use your cellphone to take photos, but you can use a normal camera. Laws and rules should not be based on the technology, but on what it is used for.

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Stupid differentiation

September 28th, 2009 at 5:12 am by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

The Transport Ministry has clarified the terms of a new law that restricts the use of cellphones in cars, saying that from November it will be illegal to use a mobile phone as a satellite navigation aid while driving.

Now if that means illegal to look at it, if it is on the seat next to you, fair enough probably, but …

Under the new law, that would be illegal, Transport Ministry spokesman John Summers confirmed. “The Road User Amendment Rule 2009 means drivers will not be able to look at a navigation aid on a mobile phone when driving, even if it is mounted on the dashboard.

Now that is just plain daft. The Government is going to ban you using your phone as a navigation device – even if placed correctly in front of you on the dashboard!

The restriction does not apply to navigation systems that do not have a mobile phone function, he says.

How stupid is that? I mean how do you justify the differentiation on public policy grounds? You can have a near identical device mounted on the dashboard, giving you navigation advice, and it is illegal if the device also has mobile phone capability.

Properly functioning GPS systems make the roads safer. You don’t even have to look at them very often as they give oral directions also.

I can understand the rationale to discourage people using a cellphone to navigate if the phone is not mounted on the dashboard. But it really is bonkers to ban it, if it is mounted.

UPDATE: A reader points out it is even more stupid than I realise.

The situation in your blog post is even more ridiculous than you blogged.  Many satnav systems are now coming out with bluetooth capability that turns them into a handsfree device.  So it will be legal to watch your satnav system and use it as a handsfree device, but it will be illegal to use your iphone in handsfree while using it as a satnav device.
I think the Minister needs to knock some heads together in the bureaucracy.
UPDATE: And the Minister has done so. His office has informed me:

The Road User Amendment Rule that contains restrictions on cell phone use is designed to discourage motorists from talking on their hand held cell phones or texting while driving.  Voice calling is permitted, provided the phone is in a mounted hands-free device,

It is not the intent of the rule to make it illegal for motorists to use the satellite navigation or music functions of their cell phones, provided these are mounted in the vehicle and are manipulated infrequently.

It is also not intended to discriminate against one kind of satellite navigation device or another.  However, with all of these devices it is important to set them up while the vehicle is stationary as they are all potential distractions in a moving vehicle.

The Minister this afternoon met with officials and instructed them to amend the rule accordingly.

Excellent. Good to see a quick and decisive response to over-reaching by officials.

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Two embarrassing driving distractions

September 22nd, 2009 at 5:39 am by David Farrar

First the Herald reports:

American Eric Hertz, who moved to New Zealand from Washington DC to become 2degrees’ chief executive nearly two months ago, said he had glanced down at the Google Maps function on his phone when he drove into a stationary vehicle at an inner-city Auckland intersection. …

Mr Hertz’s phone was in a hands-free cradle, and always is when he is in the car.

This would not be covered by the change in law mooted by the Government.

And in another Herald story:

National’s Hunua MP Paul Hutchison has been dobbed in for reading while driving on the Auckland motorway and his attitude is it’s a “fair cop”. …

Dr Hutchison said it was him yesterday and thanked the reader for reporting him.

“Anyone who dobs someone in for driving unwisely is doing their public duty and that’s fair enough. Caught red-handed – or blue-handed,” he said.

He had been “frantically” going from one meeting to another on the Auckland governance issue.

“If I was driving unwisely I shouldn’t have been and I will endeavour to correct my ways,” he said.

I note this also will not be covered by the law change.

This is why I prefer a general law on distractions while driving, rather than picking on handheld cellphones only.

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Peter Gibbons has to go right ahead and disagree with David P Farrar

August 18th, 2009 at 10:24 am by Peter Gibbons

I fully support the decision to ban talking or texting on a cell phone while driving.  Driving is the single most dangerous activity most of us will ever do (with the exception perhaps of fighter pilots, not that there are any in New Zealand anymore.)  A terrifying number of our drivers seem to be of the linked delusions that:

 a) they are a better than average driver

b) driving only requires part of their attention at any given time

c) they are perfectly capable of multi-tasking, thank you. 

In the vast majority of cases, all of these assumptions are wrong.  Many people on our roads combine arrogance and incompetence with sometimes lethal results.  There are certainly many sources of distractions while driving but using a cell phone is rarely unavoidable.  If it really is vital, make a small investment and buy a hands-free gizmo or use the Blue Fang Face Blog-type set-up David P Farrar already has in his limousine.   

While the New Zealand research is a little light, international research is increasingly confirming that texting in particular is dangerous. 

An American study concluded “the risk [of texting while driving] sharply exceeds previous estimates based on laboratory research – and far surpasses the dangers of other driving distractions.  The new study, which entailed outfitting the cabs of long-haul trucks with video cameras over 18 months, found that when the drivers texted, their collision risk was 23 times greater than when not texting.  In the moments before a crash or near crash, drivers typically spent nearly five seconds looking at their devices – enough time at typical highway speeds to cover more than the length of a football field.

One of the common arguments against the ban, made by David P Farrar and others around the blogosphere, is that there is already a law against driving while distracted though it is not really used.  That is true as far as it goes but my understanding is that the main reason it is not used is because of the difficulty proving causal effect.  For instance, the person may admit they were texting but deny that it contributed to them driving into a tree.  The proposed ban removes the burden of proving effect and focuses instead on the easily proved action of using the phone while driving.

I really would like to think that better use of the existing laws and a laudable public education scheme would make a difference but it won’t.  Too many drivers ignore what should be common sense every day.  A simple direct ban hitting them in the wallet and racking up demerit points is the best way to go.  If drivers really need to talk on their phones, buy one of the readily available kits which will let them do so legally.  After all, they can already afford a car.

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Will the Government ban this also?

August 18th, 2009 at 8:22 am by David Farrar

I noted yesterday that the woman driving the car next to us was applying mascara while driving the car.

Is the Government going to legislate to make this an offence also? If not, why not?

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The handheld cellphone in car ban

August 17th, 2009 at 11:00 am by David Farrar

As widely expected, the Government has announced it will be an offence to use a handheld cellphone while driving. I’m disappointed by this decision, especially by the lack of evidence it will be effective.

From November 1 it will be against the road rules for drivers to text or talk on a handheld cell phone while driving.

The change is part of the Land Transport (Road User) Amendment Rule and will see drivers using handheld mobile phones receive an infringement notice consisting of an $80 fine and 20 demerit points.

So answer five phone calls while driving, and your license may be gone. I’ve not got anything to worry about as my car stereo uses bluetooth to operate as a hands free device, but I can see a lot of people getting pinged. Ironically people will probably get pinged when it is safest to talk on the phone – waiting at the lights, rather than on a motorway, as the latter is hard to detect.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce says that driver distraction – particularly through the use of cell phones – is a real issue on our roads.

“There are a lot of other distractions while driving but handheld mobile phone use has grown to become a significant problem. The reality is we need to send a strong signal to all road users that it’s not on.

But why not action on the other distractions? Why not ban smoking in cars? Why not make it compulsory to have radio controls on the steering wheel to minimise the distraction of tuning the radio?

“Texting and driving, in particular, is a total no brainer.

Agreed and anyone seen texting while driving should be charged under the existing law.

Mr Joyce says allowing hands-free recognises that many business and trades people depend on being available on their cell phones for their livelihood, and that hands-free phones are less distracting to operate than handheld phones.

A number of studies dispute hands-free phones are less distracting. It is pleasing to see some recognition of the costs of banning some cellphone use in cars, but what we have not seen is a full cost benefit of banning hand helds only.

What I would like to see is projected benefits (lives saved and fewer crashes) vs projected costs (people having to buy hands free kits, fines, enforcement, costs to business of employees less contactable).

And for projected benefits I do not mean just an assumption that crashes where cellphone use was a factor will go from the current level to zero. I’d like to see the overseas evidence that a ban of the nature actually reduces the number of crashes where cellphone use was a factor – and by how much. Has the Government got this info? If not, why not?

Between 2003 and 2008, there were 482 injury crashes and 25 fatal crashes in New Zealand where the use of a mobile phone or other telecommunications device was identified as a contributing factor.

25 fatal crashes over six years is a fatal crash every three months on average. Now as I said above one can not assume that volume of fatal crashes will reduce to zero just because of this new law. I suspect most people will still answer their phone if it rings and is important. And many may just swap to handsfree phones also.

Let us be generous and assume the new law will cut the number of fatal crashes by 25%, where cellphone use is a factor. There is still the weighing up of whether it is appropriate to penalise three million drivers who have cars and cellphones for one less fatal crash every year. Is a reduction in the road toll of 0.25% worth the inconvience and costs of this law?

Maybe it is. I’m not 100% opposed. But I would like to see a proper cost/benefit analysis of the new law. I especially would like to see what the actual fall in crashes has been in overseas countries with similar laws. Does it actually decrease the road toll or does it just lead to lots of fines and demerits?

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Espiner on cars and cellphones

July 27th, 2009 at 4:54 pm by David Farrar

A very good blog by Colin Espiner:

Why is Steven Joyce banning handheld cellphones in cars?

I remember his predecessor, transport safety minister Harry Duynhoven, agonising over this one. First he was for the idea, then he wasn’t, then he was again. In the end he never got around to it.

Joyce has picked this one up, however, and appears ready to push it through into law. The only debate seems to be over the size of the penalty. A $50 fine or $100? Demerit points as well? That could lead to loss of licence.

And the question I have is whether the banning of handheld cellphones in car has ever been proven to reduce the number of crashes? Does it actually lead to less use of cellphones or does it just criminalise hundreds of thousands of people and results in lots of fines? Or does everyone just swap to hands free cellphones which are reputed to be as distracting?

I hope the Government has some good research to back up their decision. I remain far from convinced.

But the fact remains that handheld phones are no more dangerous than talking on a hands-free. And, according to the research, less dangerous than turning to talk to passengers in the back seat, fiddling with the stereo, or eating in the car – all of which cause more accidents.

Surely some common sense is required here. You don’t (or at least you shouldn’t) reach for a cup of coffee while overtaking on the open road. You don’t turn to yell at the kids while turning at an intersection. And you wouldn’t pick up the phone while completing a bit of tricky driving or trying to park.

On the other hand, on a straight piece of road with little traffic or while chugging along in rush hour, it might be safe to make a quick call. It’s all a matter of judgment, which is surely what driving – and many other things – is all about.

Exactly. Even with a hands free phone I will often stop talking to someone while reversing. Or if the weather is really bad. Or the traffic difficult. But sometimes it is quite safe to talk on the phone. Encourage safer use of phones rather than try to ban handheld phones.

My fear is that by banning handheld cellphones the Government is treating the public like idiots who can’t be trusted to know when it is reasonable to use one. Speed limits and alcohol bans are one thing. Handheld phones are quite another.

If you are pissed, you are pissed for the entire trip. Most people only use the phone for a few minutes on a trip, and do judge when it is safe to do so. For example a quick call at the lights to say you are running late. That will now be illegal if done on a hand held.

I guess National must have polled on this issue, and maybe there isn’t much public outrage. Certainly I think most agree that texting while driving is pretty silly. But I would have thought Joyce would have bigger issues to deal with in his portfolio than banning something for marginal, and probably debatable, safety gains.

Given National was once lukewarm on this idea, I can only conclude a bit of official capture has gone on here, a bit like Kate Wilkinson over the folic acid in bread debate.

In the wake of any skillful public relations campaign, however, I guess it will be pushed through. I wonder, though, whether public resentment might start building once the fines start rolling in.

Public polls have (sadly) shown strong support for such a measure. But I think the Government should be careful here. No-one will vote for a party because they banned handheld cellphones in cars . But if tens of thousands of NZers get fined for receiving a phone call, let alone lose their license then they could well vote against the party that did it.

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More on cellphone ban in cars

July 22nd, 2009 at 12:00 pm by David Farrar

The Dom Post reports:

A ban on using hand-held cellphones while driving looks set to be in place by October as officials prepare to report back to Transport Minister Steven Joyce this week.

Mr Joyce confirmed yesterday he expected recommendations to land on his desk by the end of the week after lengthy public consultation.

But he has made his intentions clear a ban on texting while driving was a “no-brainer” and he had sympathy for the view that taking calls on a hand-held cellphones should be outlawed.

Hands-free cellphone kits would be allowed.

I look forward to seeing the research that says hands-free cellphones are safer to use in a car than hand-held ones.

Road safety experts suggest that drivers are nine times more likely to have a crash if they are using a cellphone, and cellphone use has been blamed for close to 100 crashes a year.

This is correct, but let us out in context. In 2007 cellphone use contributed to 94 out of 11,667 crashes. That is 0.8% of crashes. And only 3.2% of crashes are fatal, so that suggests three fatal crashes a year have cellphone use as a factor (that does not mean no cellphone use would have resulted in no accident – there are often many factors).

But let us look at all things that are cited as having caused a distraction that was a factor in a crash:

  1. 262 – cigarette, radio, glove box
  2. 130 – scenery
  3. 122 – passengers
  4. 96 – cellphone
  5. 30 – animal/insect in vehicle

So are we going to ban radios? Are we going to ban passengers? How about banning animals – that may stop 30 crashes a year.

106 crashes have a factor if impairment due to old age? Should old people be banned from driving?

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Cellphones and Crashes

July 21st, 2009 at 8:10 am by David Farrar

The Herald reports:

The number of fatal crashes on Auckland roads has risen sharply after a two-year lull, and police 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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Herald supports cellphone ban

June 3rd, 2009 at 8:36 am by David Farrar

The Herald editorial supports a cellphone use ban for drivers. I don’t agree of course.

Nonetheless, it is heartening to see Steven Joyce ready to act decisively to ban drivers from using hand-held cellphones. So dangerous is the practice and so widespread is the support for a ban that this issue should have been settled several years ago.

The practice is called dangerous, yet the actual accident rates from cellphone use is less than other distractions.

The appeal for a ban is based, first, on most people’s instinctive understanding that using a cellphone, whether for talking or texting, causes drivers to lose concentration.

Yes it does, but you can mitigate that risk. Talking to passengers can cause a loss of concentration also.

Virtually all comparable jurisdictions have stopped drivers using hand-held cellphones. Long ago, they dismissed the fuzzy notions that have delayed action here. Among those is the argument that cellphones are just one of a number of distractions, such as changing a CD or talking to passengers. But, unlike any other disturbance, cellphone use can be addressed simply. There is no need to treat it as just another distraction that must be tolerated.

Other distractions can be simply addressed. Smoking in cars can easily be banned. Stereo systems can be made illegal. Passengers can be banned. What is the logic to target cellphones only? What would be good to see is some research weighing up the costs and benefits of each type of distraction being banned.

If there is an element of controversy about Mr Joyce’s proposal, it lies in its restriction to hand-held cellphones. Much research has noted that the safety issue is not so much the holding of the phone as the decreased concentration caused by the conversation. If so, hands-free connections are equally dangerous. Nonetheless, it is fair to suggest that cellphones have become an essential instrument, especially for tradespeople. It is probably too late to ban them altogether, and the use of hands-free connections, which do not involve drivers looking down to make calls, probably represents a reasonable compromise.

And here is where I think the Herald’s arguments fall down. After stating all the reasons why cellphones should be banned in cars, they then agree it is not practical as cellphones have becom essential, and instead only ban hand held cellphones – despite acknowledging they are probably just as dangerous.

So the roads will be no safer, but we will feel we have done something. Wooly thinking which I expected better of from both the Government and the Herald.

Either have the courage of your convictions and ban cellphone use entirely, or don’t target them at all, and focus on a wider clampdown on all distractions.

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Joyce to ban cellphones in cars

June 2nd, 2009 at 8:29 am by David Farrar

Very disappointed to read in the Herald that Steven Joyce is set to ban hand held cellphone use in cars.

This does not affect me personally as my cellphone uses bluetooth to operate the stereo as a hands-free device. But regardless I think it is a bad decision, based on emotion and the need to be seen to do something – rather than than logicial analysis.

Why is this is bad move?

  • Research shows that hands free cellphone use is just as distracting as hand held use.
  • Research shows other distractions are more of a hazard – such as smoking while driving
  • We already have a law that deals with distractions while driving
  • Any law change should target all distractions – not just pick one out
  • Most research on the benefits of banning cellphone use in cars fails to scrutinise the costs of such a ban
  • The Government is moving straight to regulation without trying education first

The last one is one I have pushed for some time. Before they ban something, try education. Just as we have drink driving ads, have cellphone in cars ads showing accidents by gettign distracted and maybe giving some advice to drivers such as “Have a passenger answer the phone”, “Pull over to talk if the conversation is more than a minute”, “Never text while driving”.

The proposed ban will not make roads safer. It will just force people to buy hands free kits, and result in fines for those who don’t.

Also the proposed rules wil ban voice calls and texting. How about twittering? How abotu checking email on the Blackberry? This is the problem of having a specific rule targeting cellphones rather than improving a general rule about distractions.

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Video goodies

June 18th, 2008 at 12:13 pm by David Farrar

Spare Room has an amusing video of a learner driver filming himself being taught to drive while speaking on his mobile phone. One instructor physically takes over the wheel from him.

And Tony Milne provides the Boston Legal clip about Denny Crane being considered as the Republican nominee for President. It is a classic.

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Newspapers all love planned cellphone ban

June 12th, 2008 at 7:09 am by David Farrar

Sigh, all the newspaper editorials are supporting the proposed ban on non handheld cellphone use in cars. I hope none of them ever have reporters whom they call while out driving to a job!

The Dom Post says:

Driving while using cellphones reduces safety margins. Those who assert they know the difference between safe and unsafe use of phones should ask themselves if they are equally confident that the testosterone-loaded 18-year-old rushing from football practice to meet his girlfriend will show the same good judgment when his phone beeps as he approaches in the opposite direction.

I would retort that 18 year old will simply break the law anyway.

The Press says:

Cellphone use is such a highly visible, plainly dangerous activity that targeting it directly sends a clear road-safety message to drivers. Specific messages are more effective than general ones.

So what has been the impact in countries which have banned callphones? Has the number of deaths and accidents due to distractions dropped, compared to before the ban?

And the Herald says the ban is too timid:

For years, the Government’s failure to ban the use of handheld cellphones while driving has been a complete puzzle. So compelling is the case for outlawing the dangerous practice that any delay appears untenable.

It proposes that the penalty for breaches of the ban would be a $50 fine and 25 demerit points. But American research suggests that so ingrained is the habit of texting and dialling that modest penalties might not be enough to discourage drivers from using cellphones. That seems a reasonable conclusion, especially given that strict enforcement will be difficult. To have an impact, a penalty of at least $150, plus demerit points, would be necessary.

Or how about jail, like with drunk driving? I mean we hear that it is just as bad a distraction, so lets lock up anyone who uses a cellphone in a car – that will be a real deterrent.

Equally compelling is the fact that at least 45 countries, including Australia and most of the European Union, have outlawed handheld phones. In Britain, indeed, matters have moved on to increasing the penalties imposed on motorists whose cellphone use causes the death of a fellow road-user or pedestrian.

This is a very different thing. If one actually causes a fatal accident due to a decision you made to use a phone, then you should face the full force of the law.

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Hand-held cellphone ban in cars proposed

June 11th, 2008 at 10:56 am by David Farrar

The Dominion Post reports that later today the Government will announce a proposed law change to ban hand-held cellphone use in cars.

My views on this are well known. We should have laws which focus on all distractions to drivers, not pick and choose particular distractions on the basis of media headlines. A cellphone use ban should be accompanied by banning food, drink, smoking, tuning the radio and passengers who talk.

Also there has been research showing that hands free cellphone use is just as distracting as hand held use.

I would be very interested to review any studies from countries which have banned hand held cellphone use, and whether or not this has led to any reduction in crashes due to distractions, and also how many people have been fined for breaking the new law. My suspicion is it affects the crash statistics very little, but increases ticketing and revenue.

There are circumstances where it is perfectly safe to talk on a cellphone while driving, and times when it is not safe. Just as there are times when it is safe to drive at 120 km/hr on an open road and times when it is not safe to go more than 70 km/hr. It is called driving to the conditions.

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Herald on Cellphone ban while driving

March 17th, 2008 at 9:05 am by David Farrar

The Herald joins the campaign to ban cellphone use in cars.  Never mind there are many more dangerous distractions when driving, this one is flavour of the month.

People have got excited that Vodafone and Telecom have said they support such a ban.  This is not quite correct. They only want non-hands free use banned. This would not actually lead to a revenue drop for them, but a revenue gain as hundreds of thousands would have to buy a hands free kit.

And research has tended to show that cellphone use is almost equally distracting, whether or not it is hands free or not.  So such a ban would be a claytons response.

The Herald says:

For the purposes of impact and clarity, there must be a ban. Education programmes go only so far.

But where is the evidence for this assertion. Has MOT ever run an education programme on cellphone use in cars? Would a rational response to the issue not be to first run an education programme, and only if it fails, then consider a ban?

So why not have a MOT road safety advertising campaign on the dangers of cellphone use (or even on wider distractions) in cars, and how to mitigate these.  Points could be:

  • Keep calls as short as possible – the longer they are, the more risk you incur
  • Judge the conditions – avoid any phone use in sub-optimal conditions such as congested roads, bad weather etc.
  • Never ever text while moving
  • Pull over to dial someone
  • Always get a passenger to answer your phone for you, if you are not driving alone

Justification for a ban often cites many other countries  have done it. But has it had any effect? Are there stats showing a decline in accidents due to cellphone use? Or has it just resulted in thousands more tickets?

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