AA blasts red-light camera delays

By Mathew Dearnaley

Lives being lost while officials dither about a system that's already been proved, says motoring organisation.

The Ministry of Transport has missed two deadlines for producing a national policy for cameras to be introduced to other potentially lethal sites. Photo /  Greg Bowker
The Ministry of Transport has missed two deadlines for producing a national policy for cameras to be introduced to other potentially lethal sites. Photo / Greg Bowker

Bureaucrats are being accused of risking lives by dithering over policy guidelines for posting cameras at the country's most dangerous intersections to stop drivers running red lights.

The Automobile Association is despairing that Government officials are trying to reinvent the wheel more than four years after the former Auckland City Council and the police launched a successful trial of digital cameras in the CBD.

Auckland Transport reported in September 2011 that three cameras rotating around 10 downtown intersections had reduced red-light running by 43 per cent and crashes attributable to such offending were down a stunning 69 per cent.

More recent figures have been unavailable from the council body, but one industry source believes no more than about 10 vehicles a week are now running lights at each site, such is the trial's continuing effectiveness in reining in drivers.

Even so, the Ministry of Transport has missed two deadlines for producing a national policy for cameras to be introduced to other potentially lethal sites such as in Manukau and elsewhere around the country, although it says it is working hard to complete the task.

"We've missed a couple of deadlines but we're still working to put out the best policy we can," a spokesman said.

But AA spokesman Simon Lambourne says the Auckland trial has confirmed the effectiveness of site selection criteria and the delay is unacceptable after crashes involving vehicles running red lights caused 10 deaths and 194 serious injuries nationally over five years to the end of 2011.

"It's simply not good enough - the Ministry of Transport is now trying to reinvent the wheel and the police bureaucracy is not supporting this as much as it should, given the road safety benefits," he said.

"The Government often talks about cutting red tape and making New Zealand a more productive economy but here's a classic example where they could cut the red tape and improve the safety and lives of New Zealanders.

"These crashes have an average annual social cost to New Zealand of about $47 million."

Mr Lambourne said Auckland Transport calculated a return of $8.20 for every $1 of the $750,000 invested in the trial in its first three years, and there had been unprecedented support for red light cameras from 75 per cent of surveyed Aucklanders.

Former associate transport minister Simon Bridges admitted to the Herald in late December that he was frustrated by the delays in developing a national enforcement policy and said he was looking forward to meeting officials early this year to achieve progress.

His successor from January's Cabinet reshuffle, new minister Michael Woodhouse, says he is "very receptive" to a more widespread use of what he agrees can be a useful road safety tool and has asked his officials to keep working with the police and the Transport Agency to make progress.

But although saying he understands frustrations over previous delays, he has refrained from indicating a timetable for officials considering the use of new-technology wireless cameras already owned by the police.

It appears to have taken more than a year since the Auckland trial results were published for the ministry to have asked the Traffic Institute representing local body traffic engineers and consultants in October for a report recommending site selection criteria.

Institute vice-president John Gottler said the Government had evidently been worried needlessly about facing demands for red-light cameras at intersections throughout the country.

"Unfortunately, there was this perception that every signal in the whole country was going to have a speed camera, and that's not true."

In delivering its report to the ministry before Christmas, the institute also identified a range of measures such as altering traffic light phasing.

Mr Gottler said that meant no more than 20 to 40 sites throughout the country should need cameras as the ultimate driver behaviour modification tool, backed by existing fines of $150.

Auckland was likely to need most of them, given that offending was far more prevalent there than anywhere else, to be followed by Christchurch and Wellington "and then the rest of them will be scattered here and there".

But ultimately it would be up to the Government to provide financial support to match local efforts and to the minister to say:

"I'm going to invest in saving lives".

- NZ Herald

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