Mobile menaces


Queenstown cops are tearing their hair out over the number of people using cellphones while driving in the resort.

Figures released to Mountain Scene show 593 infringements have been dished out by police in the past three years.

At $80 a pop, that’s $47,440 forked out by dodgy drivers.

NZTA figures show there’ve been five crashes in the resort this year where cellphone use has been a factor – a figure cops say is actually likely to be far lower than reality, given how hard it is to prove.

Constable Brent Rush, a specialist road policing officer, reckons cellphone use is the main factor in nose-to-tail crashes in the resort.

“They’re just not paying att-ention,” he says.

“You’ll see sudden jerks on the steering wheel, slow lines of traffic, people going up the back of another car.

“People just don’t get it, it actually is quite serious.”

Acting Associate Transport Minister James Shaw says the government is currently developing a new road safety strategy.

It could include much tougher penalties and higher fines for distracted drivers.

“As part of this work, I’ve asked officials to explore the effectiveness of interventions used in other jurisdictions to tackle cellphone use and distracted driving,” Shaw says.

“This includes the use of new enforcement technologies like safety cameras and higher penalties for distracted drivers.”

Local MP Hamish Walker says the penalty, introduced by the former National government, might need another look if it’s not doing the job.

“It might need to be a conversation the community has, around a cultural shift.”

Constable Ben Pereira says it’s not always easy confronting someone who’s been caught out.

On the day he spoke to over after spotting the man talking on his phone.

While he saw the man blatantly chatting away, it took close to 20 minutes of back and forth – and a range of excuses – before the ticket was issued.

“I said to him ‘stop wasting both of our time so that we can get on with the day’.”

It turned out the man worked as a bus driver, so the 20 demerit points on his licence will therefore not be a good look either.

“It is frustrating when you see them with your own eyes, but they say ‘no I wasn’t’.”

Rush says some people front up when caught, while others? Not so much.

“They’ll just say ‘yeah? Prove it’.”

Road policing boss Sergeant Chris Brooks stops short of saying the $80 fine for the offence isn’t enough, but admits “it’s not very much”.

“Officers don’t stop cars just because they want to,” he says.

Brooks is amazed people in the transport industry are willing to throw their careers “down the drain”.