Use of phones, other devices a growing distraction for drivers

By David Thomson on Sat, 5 Aug 2017

I wonder how many lives would be saved and injuries prevented in New Zealand if we followed the lead of Honolulu, which has recently passed a law that bans pedestrians from looking at mobile phones, texting or using digital devices while crossing the road.

Due to come into effect in October, the so- called ‘‘Distracted Walking Law'', allows pedestrians to speak on their mobile device while crossing the road, but they are not allowed to look at the device (including laptops, tablets, and video gaming devices as well as smartphones).

My initial reaction, that this was a heavy- handed over-reaction by an over-zealous city authority, was tempered by a little research.

According to a 2015 University of Maryland study, there were more than 11,000 injuries in the United States between 2000 and 2011 from phone-related distraction while walking. With such devices far more common now, the figures are likely to be even higher these days. So much so that the National Safety Council has added ‘‘distracted walking'' to its annual list of the biggest risks for unintentional injuries and deaths in the United States.

I can well believe that from my own experiences as a pedestrian and motorist in having to react quickly when a distracted pedestrian has strayed into my path.

Before anyone in New Zealand gets any bright ideas, though, it makes more sense to properly police the law we have right now, which makes it an offence to operate a non- hands-free mobile device while driving.

This, surely, is one of the most flouted road rules in the country: barely a day goes by when I fail to spy several motorists either chatting on their phones while driving, or proceeding inattentively in a peculiar head-down manner that indicates they are looking a mobile device in their hand or on their lap. I wonder, too, about quite a few folk who seem to drive while wearing headphones or earplugs.

A basic of safe driving is maintaining an awareness of what is happening around you at all times; such awareness is significantly diminished by any of the behaviours described above.

Moving from matters of road safety to matters of roading infrastructure, the relative absence of rain in recent days, and in the forecast for several days ahead, is good news for our local authorities and roading contractors as the clean-up from last month's deluge continues.

News of the disruptions has certainly spread far and wide - a colleague in the United Kingdom (an expatriate Kiwi, to be fair) emailed me earlier this week expressing concern that next Saturday's Catlins Rally might be adversely affected. The good news, as I understand it, is that the roads being used by the event were far enough south to escape the worst effects of the floods, and the event will proceed with six special stages as planned.

David Thomson