We were there waiting for the lights to change - three of us - we did not know each other but we were about to glimpse our mortality. It was early evening in mid winter. Traffic whizzed past close to where we stood as we stared across the intersection looking for the green man.
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The light changed, the buzzer sounded and we each instinctively began to step from the kerb. An instant later we were reeling against each other as a delivery truck sped past against a very, very red light. We caught each other, gathered our emotions, shared expletives and went on our way, briefly bonded by our shared close call with death.
Red light running is epidemic in many cities in New Zealand and overseas. NZAA has been advocating for well over a decade now, for the installation of red light cameras in all major NZ cities and yet the road controlling authorities and NZ Police have, until recently, been quite reticent about their introduction.
The evidence is compelling. Auckland, in 2018, had 477 red light crashes, a 25 per cent increase from 2012. In the US, an AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study last year, reported a 31 per cent increase in deaths from red light running over a 10-year period until 2017.
A study in Christchurch last year, reported that red lights were ignored 340 times per hour over 15 intersections measured over a 24-hour period, and that 25 per cent of all crashes in Christchurch were from red light running.
Auckland Transport has flirted with red light cameras over the past 10 years after a trial in 2010.
This trial showed an average 43 per cent reduction in red light running behaviour at red light camera sites, a 69 per cent reduction in crashes at these sites with a benefit cost ratio of 8.2:1.
Despite the trial evidence, our largest city has been tentative about red light camera introduction.
They have promised but not implemented, installed camera sites without operational cameras, rotated cameras between sites, until last year undertaking to install red light cameras at 20 sites, most which will be permanently monitored.
But what of Whangārei and do we have a problem here?
I know that if you introduce the subject of red light running into a conversation, you immediately get a plethora of experiences of near misses and how badly other drivers behave.
When you point the finger though, there are three pointing back so it's worth just reflecting on our own behaviour around signalised intersections. Many of us see the traffic signals as a bit of a contest. Do we speed up when we see a green light in the hope that we will enter the intersection before the light turns red?
This increase in speed means that stopping when the light changes becomes more problematic. Do you speed across the intersection anyway hoping to avoid a crash?
Around five years ago, the AA surveyed 2500 of its Auckland members with 90 per cent supporting the roll-out of red light cameras. Even those that themselves admitted to red light running - about a quarter - were strongly in favour of more cameras.
The red light runners were asked why they ran the lights. The answers were a mixture of: failing to see the traffic lights, misjudging the length of the orange phase, considering it safe to run the red light and believing that they would not get caught.
A red light camera means you will get caught. They are not cheap and they rely on an agreement between the road controlling authority and NZ Police who monitor the cameras. The photographs from multiple cameras at each site are subject to multi-level scrutiny and guilty drivers get their picture and fine in the mail.
These things are very effective for safer intersections but how big is the problem in our area?
Start the conversation.
• John Williamson is chairman of Roadsafe Northland and Northland Road Safety Trust, a former national councillor for NZ Automobile Association and former Whangārei District Council member.