Teenagers around the country have made a stand recently to highlight the deadly side of cellphone use in cars.

During the last weekend in May, hundreds of students from colleges all around New Zealand put their phones away and went 48 hours completely phone-free to raise awareness of the dangers of cellphones for drivers.

As well as delivering a strong message, it helped to raise money for Students Against Dangerous Driving (SADD) programmes in schools.

The campaign has come at a time when crashes on New Zealand roads are increasing, particularly among young drivers. Young, inexperienced drivers are the group most at risk of being involved in a crash because of driver distraction.

Generally, distractions (including by cellphones) are blamed for around 12% of all crashes, but road safety advocates believe the issue is worse than this because often police can’t confirm that a driver was distracted at the time.

Seventeen-year-old Piper Young, who is one of SADD’s leaders from St Dominic’s Catholic College in West Auckland, says the idea of raising the profile of cellphone distraction came out of a workshop SADD ran last year.

“We never imagined it would grow into the nationwide campaign it has. We were really lucky to get the help of some big companies.”

KiwiPlates, Saatchi and Saatchi, Zenith Media, the AA and the NZ Transport Agency all lent a hand to help SADD pull off the campaign. Billboards, radio, internet adverts, social media and traditional media were used to spread the message. People were also encouraged to sponsor a student to go phone-free for the weekend as a way of supporting SADD’s work. KiwiPlates provides funds to the NZTA Community Road Safety Fund to support road safety initiatives.

General Manager, Mark Wilson, says he was especially interested in backing the PhoneFree48 campaign because he admires SADD’s peer-to-peer approach of raising awareness about road risks.

“It’s very concerning that our road toll has been climbing and we were alarmed to learn about the extremely high crash risk for young drivers particularly. We like how SADD works by getting students highlighting issues among themselves.”

At the SADD workshop, Piper says cellphones stuck out as an issue needing more attention.

“We feel like it’s the number one thing that everyone’s guilty of. Teenagers are really bad for it. But we see lots of adults driving and using hand-held phones too.

“For young people, there’s an amazing sense of freedom when you get your restricted licence. Our phones give us a huge sense of freedom, too. It’s about learning to enjoy these things but being responsible with them.

“I find that even taking a hands-free call can be distracting. Turning the navigation system on and off also takes my attention for a few seconds. We’re not asking people to give up their phones completely but just to be really careful about how they use them. We want people to obey the law.”

Piper became more active in SADD after seeing a crash outside her school when a student had not used the pedestrian crossing and had run out on the road.

“I was shocked when I saw the scene. I didn’t know what to do.”

A lot has happened since this incident. Piper has built student engagement with SADD at her school and is helping another school nearby do the same. She’s been involved in discussions with Auckland Transport that have resulted in safer traffic flow and better road patrols around schools in the area. A driving course that teaches students about the impacts of crashes has also been popular with students.

National Manager of SADD, Donna Govorko, who until recently was working as a Road Policing Sergeant in Auckland, has been impressed by all the initiative she is seeing among students involved in SADD.

“The PhoneFree48 campaign was already in motion when I joined SADD. The students understand how addictive phones are. It takes discipline to not reach for your phone when you’re driving to check messages, or respond to something that comes in. During the PhoneFree48 challenge, the students showed that they could go without their phones for the whole weekend, so surely the rest of us can go without checking our phones just while we’re driving.

“I’d like to say a huge thank you to all the students who participated and the companies who sponsored different parts of this campaign,” Donna says.

Donations to SADD programmes can be made here, where an update on funds raised by PhoneFree48 can also be found.

About SADD

• Charity operating in schools since 1985

• Raises awareness of multiple road risks for  young drivers

• Programmes are in 230 Kiwi high schools and some universities

• Teaches students to promote positive driving behaviours amongst peers

• Encourages young people to think about their roles as passengers, bystanders and friends

Be phone free

Before driving:

• Check and send your messages.

• Get apps you want to use (eg. navigation or music) up and running.

• Put your phone on ‘do not disturb’.

While driving:

• Ideally have your phone out of sight, out of mind.

• If you must use a cellphone function while driving, your phone should be in a cradle where you can easily see it without looking away from the road.

• Set up voice commands so you don’t even have to touch the screen to activate basic functions.

• Even hands-free calls take some of your attention away from your driving and the road environment, so make any hands-free calls short.

• Ensure your Bluetooth or other hands-free equipment is set up ready to go if you need to take a call.

This advice applies to all in-car distractions: listening to the radio, eating, dealing with children in the back seat. Try to get everything set up as well as you can before you start the engine.

What’s the law?

Except in an emergency, drivers can’t, while driving, use a hand-held phone to:

• Make, receive or terminate a telephone call.

• Create, send or read a text message or email.

• Create, send or view a video message.

• Communicate in a similar or any other way.

Penalties are an $80 fine and 20 demerit points. If you accumulate 100 or more demerit points in any two-year period, your licence can be suspended for three months.

Reported by Toni Barlow for our AA Directions Autumn 2021 issue

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