Superintendent Glen Ndlovu said anyone caught making phone calls, sending text messages or chatting on social media when behind the wheel would be held accountable.
“Taking your eyes off the road for a few seconds can cause someone to lose their life. That call or message can wait.”
The campaign was launched in partnership with the UN Institute For Training and Research (Unitar) on December 18.
In the department’s 2018 safety report, Transport Minister Blade Nzimande said road fatalities were among the main causes of death in South Africa and that 1 612 people had died on South African roads over the 2018/19 festive period.
One of the major contributing factors, said Nzimande, was distracted driving - mainly drivers using cellphones.
The founding director of the Road Safety Foundation, Philip Hull, said they were conducting a survey on the number one reason for road accidents.
He said he found that 75% of people who took their eyes off the road were involved in accidents.
“Of the 380 people we interviewed, only 17 said they never texted and drove. They did, however, admit that they made calls using Bluetooth and were distracted when scrolling for the person they wanted to call.”
Hull said it took only 2.4 seconds for someone to be distracted and cause an accident and they, therefore, supported the campaign.
However, he believed that a fine was not a solid deterrent: “Durban should think about implementing measures like Cape Town, where your phone is confiscated and your sim card removed. The thought of having to stand in a long line at metro to get your phone back should make people think twice about texting while driving,” he said.
Road safety specialist Johan Jonck said education was essential to fighting the texting and driving issue: “An informed road user is a safer road user, so we need to share information on a continuous 24/7 basis.
“Very few manage to leave their phones alone when on the road. We need to make a mind-shift and realise that a call or a text can wait. Nothing is so important that it can be weighed against the value of human life,” he said.
Motorist Melissa Evangeline, of Chatsworth, said she would never think of texting and driving as she believed both hands were needed on the steering wheel.
“I’ve already been involved in an accident and I would never text and drive knowing I am putting someone else’s life at risk,” she said.
Veera Thangamuthu, of Phoenix, said: “I know a phone is a distraction and I try as far as possible to reply to texts at traffic light stops, but sometimes I take a chance.
“Knowing that I could be fined, does make me think twice.”
Seelan Ramsamy, of Tongaat, lost a loved one in an accident and said that she would never jeopardise the lives of others.
“I know so many people who use phones while driving, even when there are passengers. I mean, how disrespectful and careless can one be to disregard someone else’s life, let alone your own?” Ramsamy said.
Gino Naicker, of Durban North, admitted to texting while driving: “I’ve come close to making accidents so I stopped.
“Reducing your attention on the road and not having both hands on the steering wheel will cause your reaction times to decrease in the event of avoiding a collision. I agree that your message can wait,” Naicker said.
Another motorist, who declined to be publicly identified, said he used his phone every day while driving and joked that he would never get caught.
“I know how to drive and I can multi-task quite easily. I am a responsible driver and I don’t think responding to a quick text will harm anyone.”