Deterring mobile phone use while driving
Raising the fee alone will not necessarily deter mobile phone use while driving. However, aligning it with other offences sends a strong signal to drivers about the seriousness of the offence relative to other safety-related driving offences.
This message will also be reinforced through Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency’s national road safety campaigns, which will contribute to the deterrence effect.
Raising the fee to $150 ensures alignment with other similar offences and creates a consistent baseline.
Officials are conducting a systematic review of road safety penalties in 2021 as committed to under the Road to Zero initial action plan.
The review will ensure that penalties act as an effective deterrent and align with the risk of harm from the offence. This may lead to additional increases in the fee for using a mobile phone while driving.
There are no changes proposed to the number of demerit points associated with this offence (currently 20 demerit points).
Infringement notices issued in the past
In 2020 there were 39,090 infringement notices issued for using a hand-held mobile phone while driving.
Based on the period 2009 to 2020:
- Only 4% of infringement notices are issued to those aged 19 years or younger. However, between 2015 and 2019, 44% of fatal crashes where a mobile phone was a distracting factor had a driver aged between 15 and 19 years old.
- 15% of infringement notices are issued to those aged 20-24 years, 18% to those aged 25-29 years, 16% to those aged 30-34 years, and nearly half (48%) to those aged 35 years or older. However, between 2015 and 2019, three-quarters (75%) of serious injury crashes where a mobile phone was a distracting factor involved a driver between 15 and 34 years of age.
Revenue collected from fees
As with other traffic infringements, money collected goes into the Government’s Consolidated Fund.
Equivalent infringement fees overseas
Penalties for using a mobile phone while driving vary, but many other jurisdictions have much higher instant fines for the equivalent offence.
For example, in the United Kingdom the fine is £200 while in Australia it varies from AU$250 to AU$1000 depending on state.
The infringement fee increase has not been publicly consulted on. However, there is strong support from stakeholders and the general public for increasing the current penalties for mobile phone use while driving.
Waka Kotahi’s 2020 Public Attitudes to Road Safety survey found 80% of respondents supported much higher fines for using a hand-held mobile phone while driving.
This issue has also been frequently raised in correspondence to Ministers since the current fee was introduced.
Prevalence of using a mobile phone while driving
Waka Kotahi’s 2020 Public Attitudes to Road Safety survey found 16% of people – including 25% of those aged 20 to 39 years – had made a hand-held phone call while driving in the last month.
The same survey found 23% of people had sent or received a text while driving in the last month – this was a decrease from 38% when the survey was last conducted in 2016.
Risks of using mobile phone while driving
Distracted driving due to mobile device use is a contributing factor in road crashes. Between 2015 and 2019, there were 22 road deaths in New Zealand and 73 serious injuries where driver attention was diverted by a mobile phone. It is also likely that this number is under-reported.
A meta-analysis concluded that handheld mobile phone use has a negative impact on road safety, resulting in increased numbers of crashes and near misses, and increased crash injury severities.
International evidence shows that the distraction caused by mobile phones can impair driving performance in a number of ways, including longer reaction times (notably braking reaction time, but also reaction to traffic signals), impaired ability to keep in the correct lane, shorter following distances, and an overall reduction in awareness of the driving situation.
There is also a higher risk of distraction and a greater negative effect on driving behaviour for those using a mobile phone compared to other activities (e.g. conversing with a passenger). Although both scenarios have distraction potential, studies have shown that reaction times are slower among drivers talking on a phone than among those talking to a passenger.