The serious crash rate on Auckland roads has come down. After rising every year from 2013, the data shows a 22 per cent drop in the number of deaths and serious injuries in 2018, compared with the previous year.
A 22 per cent drop means there were 10 fewer deaths on Auckland roads in 2018 compared with 2017, and 161 fewer serious injuries.
But the numbers are still high: 649 people were killed or seriously injured on our roads last year. That's nearly two people a day.
The data was collected by the NZ Transport Agency and released to the Herald by Auckland Transport (AT).
AT's implementation manager for safe systems, Andrew Bell, said yesterday it was "a snapshot of one year and does not yet reveal a trend". He added, "We don't take any pleasure in this yet. The rate is still way too high. But it is encouraging news."
Mayor Phil Goff also welcomed the new data, saying it's "great to see significant improvement". But, he added, "the figure still represents an unacceptable level of harm and tragedy".
Historically, deaths and serious injuries in New Zealand peaked in 1987 and fell consistently in subsequent years to 2013, after which they started to rise again. The 2018 drop is the first since then.
The lower numbers were recorded across most indicators, but with some exceptions. The proportion of serious crashes involving motorcyclists, pedestrians and cyclists increased to 47 per cent of all such crashes. This group is known as "vulnerable road users".
The data does not indicate what causes such a high figure for vulnerable users. Greater use of public transport means more pedestrians. The ongoing increase in the number of SUVs and other large vehicles may also make the roads more dangerous for people not inside them.
The worst areas for serious crashes were the rural roads of Rodney and Franklin. The crash numbers there did decline, but as in previous years their figures were still much higher than in other areas.
That's true for overall numbers and as a proportion of the local populations. Rodney had 124 deaths and serious injuries per 100,000 people and Franklin had 94. The next highest area, the central city, had 56. In comparison, in many other parts of Auckland the rate was only in the 20s.
However, due to the quantity of traffic, most accidents occurred in urban areas. Roads with a speed limit of 50km/h accounted for 366 (56 per cent) of the total 649 serious crashes.
That's a far higher percentage than roads with any other speed limit. The next most dangerous was open roads with 100km/h limits, which had 139 serious deaths or injuries.
Three parts of the city had an increase in serious crashes - the Hibiscus Coast (up 36 per cent), Waitematā, which includes the inner city (up 31 per cent) and Ōrākei, which includes Remuera and the Eastern Bays (25 per cent).
What caused the crashes? The data shows that only half (49 per cent) of fatal crashes involved "reckless behaviour". That includes speed, impaired driving, not wearing seatbelts and using a mobile phone. The other half were primarily due to "system failure": if the road or the car had been better designed and managed, death could have been avoided.
For serious injuries, reckless behaviour accounted for 29 per cent, with 71 per cent caused by system failure.
"Better driver education is important," said Bell. "But our strategy at AT is to accept that we are responsible for road safety. We can make the roads safer and that's what we want to do."
The number of speed-related crashes was down 39 per cent. Bell said speed is "only one piece of the puzzle", but added that when a driver is speeding, "it has a direct influence on the likelihood of a crash occurring and the severity of the outcome".
The data is based on police reports, which means it is likely to under-report the scale of the problem. A recent nationwide inter-agency study discovered that only 41 per cent of people admitted to hospital with moderate or severe injuries after a road crash had a police report.
The others were brought to hospital, perhaps by friends or family, without the police being notified of the crash.
There's quite a bit of good news in the Auckland crash data for 2018. The biggest reductions, around 40 per cent, occurred on 50km/h roads in South Auckland suburbs such as Māngere, Ōtāhuhu, Ōtara, Papatoetoe and Manurewa.
"We believe the police district recognised it as a problem area and were much more active in patrolling than they had been in previous years," said Ellison.
Goff also commented on the extra policing. "What is positive is that where we have lifted the level of enforcement, such as red-light cameras and more alcohol breath testing, the result is a huge drop in crashes at red lights or involving alcohol."
Inspector Scott Webb, road policing manager for all Auckland police districts, said, "Police have a strong relationship with Auckland Transport and we work closely with our partners on our shared focus to reduce harm on our roads … Alongside drink/drive operations, police's efforts are also focused on the wearing of restraints, distractions (especially cellphone use while driving), and speed."
Other parts of the city also experienced a big drop: Mt Albert and Mt Eden (down 58 per cent), Devonport and Takapuna (down 37 per cent), Henderson and Massey (down 36 per cent), and the Waitākere Ranges, which recorded the biggest drop in the city (down 61 per cent).
Ellison also credited AT's Home Free public transport promotion as making a difference.
"We gave shoppers free travel on trains and buses on the last Friday evening before Christmas. Police tell us that's often their worst night of the year, but last year it was very quiet."
For the third year running, no children were killed near schools, in the two-hour periods before and after school. But there were 16 serious injuries.
Sixty-four young drivers (aged 16-24) were involved in crashes causing death or serious injury, down 34 per cent from last year's 97. Ellison said AT believes that's due to greater driver education among young people and more targeted enforcement.
There are more red light cameras in the city now, which contributed to an extra 230,000 speed offence notices and 5000 red light running notices. Crashes caused by red light running reduced by 54 per cent.
Barney Irvine, principal adviser for infrastructure with the AA, welcomed that outcome.
"One thing we're really pleased to see is the reduction in crashes caused by red light running. We wouldn't be celebrating just yet, but it's certainly heading in the right direction. Hopefully, the number of red light running infringements comes down over time too, as behaviour changes."
The reduction in crashes involving alcohol was even bigger - down 57 per cent. Ellison says this is another example of the benefits of increased police enforcement. Police issued a compulsory breath test 25 per cent more times in 2018 than they did in 2017.
Andrew Bell also notes that Auckland Transport has made 85 safety engineering improvements in the past year, and worked with groups like the NZ Warriors to promote safe-driving messages.
Along with the data, AT has released maps that show which roads and intersections are the most dangerous. The maps show "collective risk". That is, the roads where serious crashes are more likely to happen.
This is different from "personal risk", which is any one person's chance of being in a crash on that road. Motorways, for example, have low personal risk; the number of crashes as a percentage of all traffic is very low. But because they have more traffic they also have more crashes overall, so the collective risk is high.
"The AT strategy is to focus on reducing the total amount of death and serious injury on Auckland roads," said Ellison. "This means working with our road safety partners to mitigate road trauma on roads with high collective risk".
The maps show sections of all the motorways as high risk. They also highlight dangers on arterial routes like Tamaki Drive, Dominion Rd, Blockhouse Bay, Mill Rd, Rata St/Ash St, Glenfield Rd and Lake Rd.
In the central city, Queen St, Quay St West, Nelson St, Hobson St, Wellesley St and Symonds St are all deemed high risk given the significant increase in pedestrians and cyclists. Queen St is already 30km/h and more may follow.
Associate Minister of Transport Julie Anne Genter has commented on the data: "It's great to see deaths and serious injuries drop in Auckland, but it is just one year and we can all agree it's still far too high.
"The fact that the majority of deaths and serious injuries are caused by system failures backs up the focus from this Government and AT on creating safer streets and setting safer speed limits. There is still a lot more work needed to make Auckland's streets safe and inviting places."
Deaths and Serious Injuries (DSIs) in Auckland 2018
•Number of people killed or seriously injured: 649 (down 22%).
•Speed limit with biggest number of deaths and serious injuries: 50km/h (56%).
•Speed-related deaths and serious injuries: down 39%.
•Pedestrians, motorcyclists and cyclists: 47% of total.
•Fatal crashes caused by reckless driver behaviour: 49% of total.
•Crashes involving alcohol or other drugs: down 57%.
•Worst DSI rate in Auckland: Rodney - 124/100,000 people.
•Best DSI rate in Auckland*: Hillsborough/Mt Roskill (Puketāpapa ward) - 20/100,000 people.
•Biggest increase in DSI rate: Hibiscus Coast – up 36%.
•Biggest decrease in DSI rate: Waitakere Ranges – down 61%.