An interesting announcement from Waka Kotahi yesterday about a trial of safety cameras

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.

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38 comments

  1. If the Police brought in an online reporting tool for video submissions like the UK has, they would get dozens of prosecutions a day from videos sent in by pedestrians, motorbikers and cyclists.

    So easy to spot with a helmet camera and 10 minute to upload a video, would be a huge “force multiplier” rather than relying on the laughable small amount of traffic cops and fancy fixed cameras. It would also have a significant deterrent efgect knowing you could get caught even though there’s no camera or cop car about

      1. It’s nice this is on NZTA agenda.
        If things were improved this shouldn’t need Police engagement. They’re busy with (real) crime, and I sincerely wish they didn’t need to be involved. Sure, there’s the 0.001% idiots, but we don’t need to lump more people into that group needing Police attention.

        Personally I find in most situations it’s a failing of understanding/education/experience/skill (not distraction) that creates situations of risk and danger.

    1. No, please, no to a public reporting tool. That is not the society I (we?) want to live in.
      This is from someone who on many days considers if I should cycle or not for fear of my safety (due to distracted, uneducated or negligent drivers).

        1. I really wasn’t trying to be moral. Just saying as a non-driver I’m at risk and should be in a position to benefit from safer roads (assuming this is a result of punishing more bad drivers).
          But I feel that creating a system where the public become an eye for reporting bad behavior isn’t a fix to the problems.

      1. Yes, I have to agree.
        All of the dobbing in of people during the lockdown was just awful to watch. It results in a society untrusting of others.
        Not hard to imagine there would be societal inequities in who used the public-reporting tool, I think the sector of society that would benefit/ use the tool most would be easy to pick.

        1. I would argue by the time someone is getting reported, the trust / social contract is already broken. The onus is on people to not externalise costs / endanger other members of the public, not for there to be no consequences.

          The on the phone while driving example is good, why is the trust of the dangerous driver that they wont be caught by a member of the public they’re endangering, be more valued than the safety / trust of the public that they wont be endangered?

          Keep it to a pretty small subset of violations, footage of red light running, photos of mobile phone while driving use, dangerous overtakes.

        2. Policing and justice has always relied on people being dobbed in, being a witness etc.

    2. I normally have GoPro running on my helmet when I am on the bike

      I could probably post footage of several red light runners per day if I could be bothered.

      Earlier this year when I got a green light, I waited for a red light runner, then started to go across the intersection, I had to brake for a small truck that clearly saw me, but just kept coming through the red.

      I looked at reporting it online, but no obvious way to upload the video, so in the end I just contacted the company that owned the truck (the truck was signwritten with company name) and gave them the number plate & stills from the video.

      Got a decent response from the company that they would take action against the driver responsible.

      So happy enough with the outcome; but disappointed in that these days with high quality dash cams and helmet cams not being used effectively to assist with road safety

      1. Yes I often use the online report a bad driver form – mainly for red light runners or obvious phone use at crossings etc that clearly are putting others at risk. The form says that if it is seen as warranting follow up the bad driver may receive a letter reminding them of their obligations – not convinced many get this though.

  2. When a home security camera, lights & monitoring software comes in under $500 I struggle to understand how these installs cost one hundred times as much. Someone is creaming it.

    1. I do some IT gear for industrial sites, and the cost for say CCTV monitoring at a commercial fuel site is a lot more expensive than home use. You have to pay a crew to safely mount and maintain cameras which can get expensive, so you don’t want to be putting a $500 camera up that isn’t guaranteed to operate 24/7 for years outdoors.

      Presumably if the footage is challenged, then you might also need to prove that the camera is certified for red-light enforcement and that any built in ANPR generates a very low number of false positives.

      Not to mention that streaming hi-def video can still get expensive; not like you happen to have Wifi and a fibre box at the lights.

      Even with all that, the $47,000 is still a surprising amount of money even if it covers installation and monitoring for a set of cameras covering the entire intersection.

  3. No I get what those new cameras on Forest Hill road south of east coast road are for. I was sure it was to enforce T2 lane but apparently not.

    1. NZTA doesnt want to upset anyone. Ever. Oneday they will do demerit points for speeding past a traffic camera, but only a after a lengthy consultation. Timid is the word im looking for.

  4. I was looking at the facebook comments on the NewsTalkZB article of this.
    Despite the article poo-pooing the idea, almost all the comments were very in favour.
    Seems that Hosking followers hate people on phones even more than they hate fines.

    This seems like it could be one of the most popular things that the NZTA have done in years.

  5. People can’t be trusted to follow the rules while driving so this seems well overdue. Problem is political if anything, cue luxton with “nanny state” claims.

    1. Yeah, if you cry Nanny State now, you’re probably one of the people making it necessary.

      For people who don’t use their phones while driving, it is maybe, perhaps, a bit annoying but it is easy to understand why this is necessary.

      For people who do use their phones, well you had your chance at taking your Personal Responsibility and you blew it.

    2. NZ driving now often resembles the wild west, enforcement is almost non-existent. Just a camera at any moderately busy roundabout would capture hundreds of no indications an hour.

  6. In my neighbourhood (Eden Terrace) I have to negotiate the awful intersection of Khyber pass/Symonds St/Newton Rd.
    The amount of bad driving and people staring at their phones is bananas. Wild west is about right. I pray that these cameras get rolled out across Auckland.

  7. Yes, you are right. I think it’s getting worse.
    But more enforcement isn’t the solution. Unless you want more police\camera\court rooms.
    Larger penalties that include compulsory training (the fines can pay for this education) would be nice.

    1. “Larger penalties” always worry me a bit as they hit some people harder than others.

      I am somewhat embarrassed by the fact that I have received a $150 fine this year. The financial amount is trivial though – I could probably pay that much just to fuel the tank. For others though, they might struggle to pay that out of their weekly budget.

      For me the shame of being caught doing something unsafe (and something I am critical of others doing) is enough to remind me to take a bit more care.

      Hence I am generally in favor of education and warnings – if you get spotted doing something stupid by a member of the public, then getting a letter. But if somebody collects a lot of warnings, then police should be able to investigate further or consider fining.

      1. I fail to see the point. Those on lower income know exactly what the rules of the road are. Every time they start the car they enter into a ‘contract’ to obey the road rules. If they don’t have the financial means to pay fines, do not break the rules. It’s easy.

        Currently, a lot of people are not affected enough by the fines to change their behaviour. Shall we adopt the income based fine system operated in Finland ($100,000 speeding ticket anyone?)

        1. Unfortunately hiding wealth and income is a lucrative and well practiced business.

          Better to stack up demerits and then enforce meaningful bans, which hit home regardless of tax bracket.

    2. Basically every piece of crime prevention research for decades has concluded that it’s way more effective to increase the likelihood that people get caught / punished, rather than increase the punishment while maintaining low catch rates.

      People are good at ignoring large occasional risks, but get the message real quick if it becomes transactional, do x and you will get fine in mail.

      So yes, if you want to have less drivers being dangerous then more police\camera\court rooms is the effective way to achieve that. And, why have expensive people do something that a machine will be able to do much quicker and more effectively.

      People have been educated on this, everyone who is willing to listen to education campaigns knows its illegal to drive while looking at a phone.

      1. I see people speeding in popular police camera spots, or slow before a fixed camera, then speed up again after. I’m not convinced the camera system is a working deterrent.
        But if any Police who saw me on a phone while driving would give a $1000 fine plus a day of compulsory drivers education, I’d not risk it.

      2. This

        If you can think you can get away with a crime, even if the penalty is the death penalty, some people will do it.

        Lesson learnt since the Victorian era of transportation to the colonies (though 501’s…), workhouses, hard labour and hanging, is that the perception of your chances of being caught is much more important than the actual punishment

        That and public shame; I don’t want a video of me doing the rounds on social media if was acting like a dickhead and crashed the bike/car

      3. Yup – and it works the same way with incentives too. If you’re running a large business (e.g. a retail chain) and trying to incentivise staff, it is much more effective to give away 100 x $100 prizes than a single $10,000 prize.

        If there’s more of a chance of being involved, people are more likely to get involved.

        I pinched this from ‘The Richer Way’ which is a thoroughly readable book if you’re interested in business and company culture. https://www.penguin.co.nz/books/the-richer-way-9781473554573

  8. I read a while ago some opinion about Codes of Conduct on forums or other web sites. I forgot the link, it but it boiled down to:

    – Do not introduce a code of conduct unless you know how to enforce it and are willing to do so.
    – You will have to enforce it.
    – A code of conduct only enforced against disenfranchised people is a lie.

    Applies to traffic rules just the same.

    I think that last point is a weak point of relying on footage sent in by other people.

  9. I regularly have helmet cam footage of dangerous driving. Twice this year I’ve had motorists intentionally drive dangerously at me while on my bike. The police report a bad driver online form doesn’t allow for video upload so what use is this footage? Would be interested in what others do with their footage or if there are any suggestions for better use of this technology while we wait the next 30 years for the government to catch up

    1. Invite others and put together a periodical compilation.

      Post it on social media and send links to the bad driver line.

      Maybe they’ll get the hint.

      1. The work of David Brennan, a.k.a. “Magnatom” who cycles in Edinburgh and reports bad driving using video evidence (and has been doing so since at least 2014) may give some suggestions of how best to use this kind of footage:

        http://www.magnatom.net/

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