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Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency has announced a new partnership to remind drivers about the importance of remaining safe behind the wheel and to raise awareness around the issue of mobile phone driver distraction.

At the helm of the partnership is an industry-wide initiative with Spark, 2degrees and Vodafone, and input from Auckland Transport and NZ Police.

All partners have a core purpose: to make New Zealand roads a safer place. 

It’s safest not to use a phone at all when driving but the reality is that driver phone use is commonplace. As many of these uses are both dangerous and illegal, the working group has developed a fact sheet to highlight the legal and illegal use of phones in cars and better equip drivers with knowledge around driver distraction.

Fact sheet - legal mobile phone use while driving

While it’s safest not to use a mobile phone while driving, in limited circumstances, it’s legally acceptable.

Legal phone use, even by very experienced drivers, can still be distracting and increase the risk of a crash. It’s important to be aware of what is legal and illegal use of a phone. If you choose to use your phone legally, we encourage you to consider this advice.

Note: Some wearable devices, such as Bluetooth connected watches, perform similar functions to a phone. If you wear one of these devices, you’ll find the information in this fact sheet relevant too.

Driver with incoming call.

What is illegal device use in a car?

It's illegal for a driver to:
cross iconhold and use a mobile phone at any time while driving or waiting in a queue of traffic, at an intersection, or at traffic lights
cross iconcreate, send or read any type of message while driving
cross iconemail, use social media, video call, browse the internet, play games and take photos/video while driving
cross iconperform any other activity not specifically listed while holding a mobile phone and driving, including use of the phone for navigation or to play music.

These functions are only permitted when legally parked, meaning the vehicle is stopped safely and is not in the flow of traffic.

The penalty for using a hand-held mobile phone while driving is $150 and 20 demerit points.

tick iconWhat are your options?

Best practice when driving:

  • Don’t use a phone at all. Let calls go to voicemail and don’t respond to any messages you receive. Only use your phone once you’ve pulled over and parked safely. This is the safest choice and it allows you to respond fully once you’re parked.
  • Have an app or function like ‘Do not disturb while driving’ mode activated on your phone. Text messages and other notifications are silenced or limited, but you can still play music and get navigation assistance.

If you decide to use your phone legally:

  • use it on a hands-free device/mounting – while this is practical, it still carries risk
  • use it only for navigation (enter the destination before you drive) or as a music source (set it up before you drive).

exclamation mark iconHands-free

Hands-free doesn’t mean risk-free.

If you’re talking hands-free, you’re still more at risk of having a crash than if you’re not talking on the phone at all. This is because a driver using a phone can be distracted by concentrating on the conversation rather than on the road.

If you’re talking hands-free, it’s recommended that you:

  • keep the conversion short
  • don’t engage in complex or emotional conversations
  • tell the person on the other end of the phone that you’re driving and may have to end the call abruptly
  • end the call if it's distracting you from driving.

What is legal mobile phone use in the car?

Use / function

Make or receive an audio phone call

ONLY if the phone is either:

  • secured in a mounting fixed to the vehicle, that doesn’t obstruct the driver’s view, and you touch the phone infrequently and briefly,
    or
  • able to be operated without touching any part of the phone (eg by Bluetooth, voice activation or the controls to answer the phone are part of the car steering wheel or dashboard).

Use music or audio functions

ONLY if the phone is either:

  • secured in a mounting fixed to the vehicle, that doesn't obstruct the driver’s view, and you touch the phone infrequently and briefly,
    or
  • able to be operated without touching any part of the phone (eg by Bluetooth or voice activation).

Use for navigation (e.g. Google Maps)

ONLY if the phone is either:

  • secured in a mounting fixed to the vehicle and doesn’t obstruct the driver’s view of the road. Drivers are encouraged to set their  destination before driving and to rely on the GPS spoken directions rather than looking at the phone,
    or
  • able to be operated without touching any part of the phone (eg by Bluetooth or voice activation).

Note: a driver can legally make a 111 or *555 call if isn’t safe or practical to stop the car and make the call.

Best practice when contacting a driver

If you need to contact someone who’s driving, help keep them safe by considering the following:

  • Do you need to contact them right now? If you’re aware someone is driving, it’s safest not to call or text them.
  • If you call someone and you suspect they’re driving, offer to call them back.
  • It’s best to avoid complex or emotional conversations when someone’s driving a car. If the conversation is likely to be complex or emotional, ask them to call you back or offer to call them back.
  • If you talk to someone who’s driving, keep the call brief.

Download fact sheet on legal mobile phone use while driving [PDF, 117 KB]

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