13 Aug 2009

Hand-held mobiles to be banned for drivers

10:09 pm on 13 August 2009

Motorists in New Zealand will be banned from using cellphones while driving under new rules announced on Thursday.

Transport Minister Steven Joyce says from 1 November it will be against the law for people to text or talk on their cellphones while driving and believes the move will save lives.

Mr Joyce says the use of hand-held mobile phones while driving has become a significant problem and it is necessary to send a strong message to all road users that this is not acceptable.

According to government figures, between 2003 and 2008 there were 25 fatal car crashes in which the use of mobile phone was a contributing factor.

From November, drivers caught using hand-held mobile phones will receive an infringement notice consisting of an $80 fine and 20 demerit points.

However, drivers will still be able to use hands-free devices and two-way radios. There will also be an exemption for 111 calls made for genuine emergencies.

Mr Joyce says allowing hands-free use recognises many business and trades people depend on being available on their cellphones for their livelihood. However, he is still urging hands-free users to pull over to make or respond to calls whenever possible.

The rule changes also include a requirement for motorcyclists and moped riders to operate headlights during daylight hours.

National manager of road policing Paula Rose says she does not expect a rash of fines to be handed out. She says many people use cellphones while driving but she expects most will quickly learn to abide by the new law.

Opponents argue that tuning the radio or passengers' conversations can be just as distracting as the use of cellphones.

But the Transport Agency says quite a body of research shows a conversation on a cellphone is more of a mental distraction to a driver than a conversation with a passenger.

The Automobile Association welcomes the cellphone ban, saying a survey of its members indicates that 76% supports a tougher approach.

An educational campaign will begin shortly to inform people about the new law.