Almost without notice, and certainly without public alarm, Auckland's road accident statistics have badly deteriorated.

In the last three years, the number of people killed on the city's roads has climbed by 77 per cent. Those left seriously injured after an accident has risen by a similar amount. The steep rise in Auckland of fatalities and serious injuries from crashes far outstrips the increase in the rest of New Zealand.

The reason for these disturbing trends, according to an analysis commissioned by Auckland Transport, is the priority given to keeping traffic moving over and above a commitment to improving road safety.

That preference has dominated policy in Auckland, and at the national level. Government funding cuts meant 111 dedicated police officers were taken off road patrols across the country, two thirds of them in Auckland.


Breath testing for alcohol-affected drivers has fallen away. Police say they do half the number of tests they administered five years ago, nowhere near enough to conform to international standards.

Yet the study for AT reported that the number of deaths and serious injuries related to alcohol on Auckland roads went from 89 in 2012 to 125 in 2017 – a 40 per cent increase.

Drivers in Auckland routinely run red lights because cameras installed by Auckland Council to catch them do not work. Last year, five people died in crashes involving running Auckland red lights, compared with a total of four deaths in the previous five years.

Nationally, nine people died in red light crashes last year compared with a total of eight for the previous five years. Wellington has had no deaths related to red-light running in the past six years.

The AT review did not mince words when it stated road safety in Auckland "could legitimately be described as a crisis".

In international terms, the accident trends all head the wrong way. In most OECD countries, deaths and serious injuries on the roads are low and declining.

Somewhat belatedly, policymakers have accepted this failure. AT has announced a $700 million investment into reducing death and serious injury on the city's roads.

At the national level, the Government wants to make it easier to set safe, sensible speed limits near schools and built-up places. It says it wants to make safety the top priority and is pouring $900 million into new measures including enforcement, deterrence, safer roads and safer vehicles.


Lester Levy, chairman of the Auckland Council agency, accepts that AT's approach has not worked, and should have changed earlier. In our report today Levy says: "AT has treated convenience as being more important than safety." AT now has a goal of reducing deaths and serious injuries by 60 per cent of the next decade.

Levy says AT will adopt a 'Vision Zero' approach, a Swedish model which starts from the premise that no loss of life due to traffic incidents is acceptable.

Lower speed limits, more safety cameras and improved road surfaces, better pedestrian infrastructure, and stronger partnerships between local and government agencies would all help lower the road toll.

New Zealand has paid a significant price in human life, permanent injury and economic loss from the transport strategy of the last decade or so.

Too many families have been torn apart by a failure to make road safety a priority.

It should not have needed overseas consultants to show officials where they were going so badly wrong. But if the road toll does start to fall, and accident rates come down, then it will have been a valuable investment.