Fine for using cellphone while driving jumps to $150 – a heartbroken son’s warning

The fine for drivers caught using their phones behind the wheel almost doubles from tomorrow, but those who have had their lives turned upside down by distracted drivers say it doesn’t go far enough.

The fine for anyone caught goes from $80 to $150 from tomorrow.

Police issued more than 400,000 infringement notices for using a phone while driving last year.

Between 2015 and 2019 there were 22 deaths and 73 serious injuries from crashes in which drivers were distracted by a phone.

In 2011 Eliot Jessep’s mum, Paula, was killed in a crash while she was texting and driving.

Now 25, Jessep said the increase was a step in the right direction but he believed we needed to align our fines with other countries.

The fine for texting, emailing, using social media, watching videos or accessing the internet while driving in Western Australia rose from $400 to $1000 last year. Even touching your phone while stopped at the traffic lights or holding the phone while taking a call earns you a $500 fine.

“If someone gets a fine upwards of $400 that’s probably really going to make you think about doing it again,” Jessep said.

Increasing the number of demerit points given out for the offence would also help, he believed.

“It’s good to see the Government taking it a little bit more seriously but I think it could take it even further.”

More education would also make a difference, he believed.

“Drink driving is so frowned upon. You’d never get in a car with a drunk friend. A lot of people if their friend was driving and pulled out a phone they are not going to call them out and stop them.”

Jade Linklater was one of the three women in the car Paula Jessep crashed into and agreed with her son’s thoughts on the law change.

Linklater had 10 broken ribs, a broken sternum and collar bone, a punctured lung and internal injuries which required surgeries to put her stomach back together and remove part of her intestine.

Her sister, who was driving, had her femur split in half, her knee crushed, shin snapped and broke her arm, a rib, her sternum, nose and toes. The other passenger escaped broken bones but had major cuts to her face.

Linklater, now 33, said she believed the fine should be as high as $1000, citing the UK as an example where drivers could be taken to court in extreme cases and fined up to £2000.

“I think that would be better. It would be hard-hitting.”

She agreed education was important because it did not carry the shame associated with drink driving.

Her message: “Stop being selfish and just focus on driving.”

“It’s not worth it. It only takes a couple of seconds of inattention and you can completely change others’ lives for the worse – and your own.

“Really does it matter if you have to wait half an hour to check Snapchat or Instagram or reply to a message? Does it really matter?”

She said she and the others in the car were doing well but all had internal injuries and scars they would live with forever.

“The lady who was texting that hit us – she lost her life and her son lost his mum.”

AA road safety spokesman Dylan Thomsen was more optimistic and said he hoped the change would cause some people to rethink their behaviour.

“It’s a pretty simple choice – just don’t pick up the phone. It’s not something you can do accidentally.”

But, he said, it was not realistic to expect one change to solve the issue and agreed road safety campaigns were needed.

“To hopefully get people to take a look at themselves and think ‘this is something I don’t need to do, I shouldn’t be doing it. I can just wait to make that call or I can pull over if I really have to’. Leaving the phone alone and waiting five or 10 minutes to get back to somebody is a really easy thing to do. It’s not a big ask and certainly not worth putting lives at risk.”

Thomsen said he had hope it could happen because there had been a huge mindset shift when it came to drink driving.

The Government would soon be reviewing road safety penalties as part of its aim to eventually see no deaths on New Zealand roads and Thomsen said that would provide an opportunity to consider demerit points and penalties used in other countries.

Transport Minister Michael Wood said the Government decided on the change because too many people were still using their phones while driving.

“Driver distraction is a serious road safety issue, and inattention – including from mobile phones – can have tragic consequences,” Wood said.

“Increasing the infringement fee to $150 means it will now match similar offences. This is our way of saying Kiwis need to take this seriously and put away the phone while driving.”

Director of road policing Superintendent Steve Greally said the police supported any effort to reduce the number of deaths and injuries on the country’s roads.

He said distracted driving was one of the four main contributors to deaths and injury on the road and officers would continue to issue fines for unsafe driving.

“Operationally, our officers will continue to take the action they deem most appropriate for the situation, applying the intervention they believe is most likely to lead to road safety, whether it’s education, compliance, or enforcement,” he said.

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