Calls for harsher penalties for using a phone while driving

By Jessica Tyson

Harsher penalties for the illegal use of phones while driving in New Zealand could be enforced in a new road safety strategy by the Ministry of Transport.

The current law requires drivers to pay an $80 fine and receive 20 demerit points for using a handheld phone while driving.

in 2010, the first year after the law was enforced, New Zealanders paid $650,000 in fines.  But last year that figure almost tripled and $2mil in fines were paid.

Minister of Transport Julie Anne Genter says the ministry is developing a new road safety strategy looking at the role and structure of infringement fees.

“This work is feeding into the ministry’s broader Offences and Penalties Review which is currently underway, and focuses on ensuring all infringement fees and penalties are appropriate and proportionate to risk,” says Genter.

According to the ministry, from 2013 to 2017 the number of fatalities and injuries attributed to phone-use while driving has increased by more than half, from 62 to 127.

 “I want every road user to feel and be safe when travelling our roads and highways, and enforcement plays an important role in reducing the number of deaths and injuries in road crashes,” says Genter.

New Zealand Transport said a statement that a driver is 23 times more likely to be involved in a crash when texting on a mobile phone while driving.

“Using a mobile phone whilst driving is one of the highest causes of driver distraction crashes especially within the 20 to 39 age group.”