An interesting announcement from Waka Kotahi yesterday about a trial of safety cameras
From tomorrow, across three Auckland locations, we're trialing safety cameras to get a better understanding of how many people drive while using their mobile phones, and how many people don’t wear their seatbelts: https://t.co/EyBgjJfyGi pic.twitter.com/pzqHTL1e9K
— Waka Kotahi NZTA Auckland & Northland (@WakaKotahiAkNth) May 23, 2022
A press release gives some more information:
New Zealand’s first ever trial of using safety cameras to better understand the scale of distracted driving gets underway tomorrow.
The six-month Waka Kotahi trial will kick off on Tuesday 24 May, using data from safety cameras located at three different locations in Auckland. The same types of cameras are already in use in Australia and the United Kingdom.
The trial will initially capture only mobile phone use, with plans for the detection of people not wearing seatbelts to be enabled later during the trial period.
Director of Land Transport, Kane Patena says driver distraction is a contributing factor in nearly 8% of all crashes where someone is killed, and approximately 90 people a year are killed on our roads because they didn’t wear a seatbelt. However, the scale of actual distracted driving and seatbelt non-compliance in general is mostly anecdotal.
“This trial provides an opportunity to accurately measure the scale of mobile phone use and people not wearing seatbelts, as well as test the camera technology, providing useful insight into these road safety issues.”
“A key part of Road to Zero, New Zealand’s road safety strategy, involves supporting good road user choices, which includes encouraging people to not use their phones while driving and making sure everyone is correctly restrained,” said Mr Patena.
Better evidence of distracted driving can help shape new initiatives to encourage people to make safer choices while driving.
“While no decisions have been made around the future use of this technology, we know we will gain valuable data which may be used to inform future decisions around interventions to address distracted driving and seatbelt non-compliance,” says Mr Patena.
The cameras capture all vehicles moving through the site, detecting drivers whose hands are not both on the steering wheel of the vehicle and potentially otherwise occupied with a mobile phone. The cameras will also detect whether the occupants are wearing a seatbelt.
To protect people’s privacy, the face of the driver and any passengers are not included in the image and the number plate of the vehicle will be automatically blurred when an image is captured. Images where no offence is captured are deleted within minutes at the camera site, and those where potential offences are detected are deleted within 48 hours.
Because the trial is focused on gathering information, and there is no Police involvement in the trial, no enforcement action will be taken as a result of the trial. This means no warning letters, infringement notices or any other communication related to any violations detected by the relevant safety cameras will be sent.
A privacy impact assessment on the trial has been carried out, and Waka Kotahi has been working with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner to address all privacy matters.
Findings will be published on the Waka Kotahi website following the trial.
The trial is part of a wider initiative that will see all traffic safety cameras (including red light, mobile and static speed cameras) shift from the Police to Waka Kotahi from mid-2023. They will also then be able to increase the number of cameras throughout NZ with the first phase of the expansion completed by the end of 2024.
I think these days, red light cameras in particular should be part of the standard traffic light installation kit. They are fairly cheap these days, especially compared to the cost of building a traffic light intersection, with AT saying in 2019 the cost was about $47k per camera – with around 650 traffic-light-controlled intersections around Auckland, that’s about $31 million to make a big improvement to safety – and fines alone would quickly cover the costs of installation.
Note, these are the results from an AT trial of red light cameras just over a decade ago (RLC – Red Light Camera, RLR – Red Light Running).
Initial RLC project evaluation findings include:
- An average 43 per cent reduction in RLR behaviour at RLC sites
- An estimated 93 per cent reduction in the social cost of crashes at RLC sites
- An average 69 per cent decrease in RLR crashes at RLC sites
- An estimated 32% reduction in rear-end crashes at RLC locations
- A significant reduction in RLR infringements at one camera location
- An estimated RLC project economic benefit/cost ratio of 8.2: 1
As for this trial, it’s good to see Waka Kotahi looking at expanding the use of cameras to a wider range of issues that cause unsafe behaviour on our roads. Waka Kotahi’s Director of Land Transport Kane Patena explained on Checkpoint yesterday that any move to use this for enforcement will require a law change, and emphasised that this trial is really just about trying to understand the scale of the problem.
Only, Waka Kotahi already have some information on the scale of the problem, in the form of their own regular research into public attitudes to road safety.
The October 2021 survey (a Kantar survey of over 1,665 people aged 16+, weighted to match the NZ population, with a resulting 95% confidence level) revealed that around 20% of people admitted to making calls that weren’t hands-free, 30% of drivers admitted to texting while driving, and 11% admitted to using social media while driving.
And those figures are all higher in Auckland, at 26%, 37% and 18% respectively.
Meanwhile the survey also found only 15-16% of people thinks you’re likely to get caught by the police for using a phone.
On the flip side of that, almost 80% of people surveyed supported “much higher fines for using a mobile phone while driving”.
Given these results, and that the technology is already in use in both Australia and the UK, it seems like there should be a case here for Waka Kotahi to push the government to get the law change made so enforcement can begin sooner.