Mobile phone use while driving after a new national law in New Zealand
Mobile phone use while driving leads to impairments in driver performance including slowed reaction times, poor lane keeping and reduced hazard detection. To increase public safety, in 2009 the New Zealand (NZ) Government introduced a ban on the use of hand-held phones while driving. The aim of the current to study was to identify the post-law prevalence of phone use while driving. Observers recorded drivers’ mobile phone use at or near traffic lights and in moving traffic at three locations (Central Business District, and two suburbs of contrasting area-based deprivation) in Wellington, NZ. A total of 8335 cars at traffic lights and 9520 cars in moving traffic were systematically observed. The use of mobile phones by drivers at these locations were 1.87% (95%CI: 1.60-2.18) and 1.34% (95%CI: 1.13-1.59) respectively. Younger drivers (<25 years) were significantly more likely to use their phones compared to older drivers (e.g., in moving traffic, risk ratio = 2.91, 95%CI=2.00–4.22). Overall, it was much more common for drivers to use their phones in a “non-ear position” (77.8%) than next to their ear, and this was also significantly higher among younger drivers. These data suggest that there has been a decline in phone use when driving as compared to rates of 3.9% reported in a pre-law study (in Auckland). Although these findings are encouraging, phone use while driving is still relatively high. Options such as mass media campaigns, enhanced enforcement, and higher penalties for breaking the law may need to be considered to further address this issue.