Hunter drivers are using mobile phones at an alarming rate

IF I wasn’t on my phone I would’ve had both eyes on the road.

Those words are not from a road safety advertisement.

It was what a Port Waratah coal loader worker told police in 2010 after he killed a cyclist who was riding in the breakdown lane of the Pacific Highway at Lake Macquarie.

The coal loader worker, Jason Rippard, is believed to be the first person in NSW to be charged with dangerous driving causing the death of a person linked to using a mobile phone.

Graham Denton, a 52-year-old father of three from Caves Beach, died on the side of the road at 6.30am on December 9, 2010.

Rippard was on his way to work at Kooragang Island and had been reading a text message on his mobile phone about his pay only seconds before his car veered into the breakdown lane.

For anyone thinking there are no consequences to driving while using a mobile phone, for any reason, it is worth considering what Rippard told police when he looked up from his phone, while travelling at about 90 kilometres per hour, and saw he was “heading straight for two cyclists”.

“All I could do was try and, you know, reef the car to miss the cyclist and unfortunately I’ve hit one of them,” he said.

They are words noone ever wants to have to say.

There is no doubt Rippard did not intend to hit Mr Denton that day, propelling him at least six metres in the air until he landed very heavily on the road.

But Rippard read a text message about his pay, and a man died because of it.

A Newcastle Herald roadside survey of cars this week showed a disturbing level of mobile phone use, and quite alarming driver behaviour.

A driver using both hands on a phone, eyes down, driving to the speed limit and with no apparent thought about actually steering the car is a crash waiting to happen.

Seven drivers in a 15-minute window were seen during peak traffic at Jesmond. Another six during an hour were seen on the Pacific Highway at Highfields during an off peak time.

It can be argued that with so many drivers using mobile phones and the risks associated with it, there should be more crashes. That is an argument used by people who haven’t stood on the side of the road, shocked and disbelieving, as someone else dies.

Issue: 38,563.