Barney Irvine: Time to listen to the public on red light running

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Image / iStock
Image / iStock

An epidemic - that's how Auckland AA members describe red light running in their city.

It's a road safety issue that has people scared, frustrated, and crying out for action.
Every year, two-three people are killed and over 300 injured in accidents caused by red light running, imposing a social cost of close to $50 million on the country.

In an already congested city, red light runners add needless delay to our intersections, forcing other drivers to wait and check before accelerating once lights turn green. Yet very little has been done about it.

In 2013, the Government was looking at introducing up to 30 new-technology red light cameras nationwide. But since then, they've only deployed three new cameras, taking the national total to eight.

This is clearly not enough.

In a recent survey of 2500 Auckland AA members, 90 per cent of respondents supported an increase in the roll-out of red light cameras. Even those that themselves admitted to red light running - around a quarter - were strongly in favour of more cameras.

The AA is calling for at least 10 new red light cameras in Auckland, and another 10 in main centres around the country.

When used right, red light cameras are a highly effective and affordable solution - at a trial in Auckland in the late 2000s, red light running decreased by 69 per cent at sites where cameras had been installed.

The public supports more red light cameras, but to help prevent any accusations of revenue gathering, the plan for where and how red light cameras are introduced needs to made crystal clear as well.

That means engaging with the public on site selection and performance - if a site failed to reduce accidents or was issuing a huge number of tickets, other options would clearly need to be looked at to improve safety at that location.

Intersections where red light cameras are used should also be signposted, as they are in Australia, the UK, and the US.

Like with speed cameras, the AA's position is that safety outcomes are best achieved by issuing motorists with a fair warning, rather than a fine after the unsafe act has been committed.

It's not about putting red light cameras at every intersection. Red light cameras need only be used where there's a proven risk, and where they're the best way of dealing with it.

In many cases, improvements to intersection design and traffic light phasing will do more to reduce the harm caused by red light running. That's why the AA would also like to see:

• More investment in monitoring the traffic light system, to make light phases more responsive and efficient.

• Advance queue detectors, which determine how many cars are waiting at or approaching an intersection, and adjust the light phase accordingly.

• Flashing orange traffic lights during low-use periods (i.e. the middle of the night), signalling that motorists can use the Give Way rules and proceed through the intersection

The good news is that red light running is once again back on the agenda for policy-makers. Our message is simple: take action and the public will be right behind you.

Barney Irvine is the principal advisor on infrastructure and motoring affairs for the NZ Automobile Association.

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