The title of the post says it all really. Nonetheless it’s worth elaborating on a few interesting angles to this debate.
First some personal context. As a car-less household, I spend a lot of time walking around Auckland’s City Centre. When I do I’m constantly amazed by the number of drivers that run red lights. I’ve seen several instances where the pedestrian signal turns green, people start to cross, before a vehicle running the red light zooms across the intersection. I’ve witnessed so many – too many – near misses and every time my stomach churns at the thought that a person could have been killed by such selfish and foolish decision-making.
Moving on. Red light running is not only unsafe, but also relatively inefficient. I think it’s inefficient because vehicles that run the amber/red light are more likely to hit the back of queues before they exit the intersection and hence block subsequent vehicle movements through the intersection. As Josh noted in his post titled “How do we stop this?” the vehicles below have created a right mess.
Anyway, the former Auckland City Council astutely observed that from 2001-05 there were 387 injury crashes recorded that involved red-light runners. In response, the Council lobbied central government to set up a trial in which three red light cameras were rotated around ten intersections.
And what an impact the cameras seem to have had. In this insightful article from three months ago Matthew Dearnaley at the NZHerald observed that:
The number of crashes caused by red-light running at the 10 intersections in the Auckland trial dropped from an average of 23.8 a year between 2001 and 2005 to just 7.3 from the start of the exercise in 2008 until the end of 2010.
Worth pointing out that during that period New Zealand’s general road injury rates also declined, so we should expect a downward trend in accident rates even without the cameras. Nonetheless, the size of the drop is so large that it seems reasonable to conclude that the cameras have had a substantial impact on reducing injury rates at these intersections.
Given these reduction in injury rates, it’s little wonder that various organisations are itching to get more red-light cameras rolling. In Dearnaley’s article, Auckland Transport’s Road safety manager Karen Hay is quoted as saying “red-light cameras are an absolute priority from Auckland Transport’s perspective as a road safety tool.” In the same article Simon Lambourne from the AA (who is better known for his pro-National/anti-CRL bias, which – as an aside – is so over the top that I have made a lifelong commitment to never join the AA) weighs into the debate and actually hits the nail on the head when he says “there are lives at stake, and we cannot overlook such an important road safety tool.”
But this begs the question: If a successful trial ended in 2010, why – at the end of 2012 – have red-light cameras not been rolled out more widely across Auckland? It seems, from reading in between the lines in Dearnaley’s article that central government is holding the process up. The most telling comment is:
The Ministry of Transport spokesman said it had made significant progress towards a national policy on red-light cameras, but was still consulting key partners such as the police and the Transport Agency on final details. It was drawing on a wide range of research, including from overseas and from the Auckland trial, to decide where cameras were likely to provide “cost-effective safety benefits” and who should be responsible for buying, installing and operating them. Funding issues were also still being worked through, although the spokesman said officials expected to make policy recommendations by the end of next month to Associate Transport Minister Simon Bridges.
This Napoleon (the dictator pig, not the French general) like comment, when translated into common parlance, ,suggests that the MoT has spent the better part of 2-3 years 1) crafting an all-encompassing national policy to manage the deployment of red-light cameras and 2) arguing over which government agency should pay for the cameras and in turn who should collect the fines.
Now as someone who works as a strategic transport planner I do see the value in such policy, which would help to ensure consistent and effective decision-making. But I can’t see how the benefits of policy outweighs the costs of slow progress. Put another way, the process of developing a policy on the cost-effectiveness of red light cameras is, in situations where they would contribute to substantially reduced injury rates, is simply not cost-effective. The phrase “paralysis by analysis” springs to mind.
I would have thought that a more beneficial process would have been for the MoT to 1) acknowledge the need for a policy and consistent approach to funding and implementation while 2) simultaneously identifying “emergency funding” that allowed for the progressive roll out of red-light cameras to the most high-risk intersections. Basically just get on and start rolling the cameras out, even if at some point you will need to step back and develop a policy to guide future decisions.
If we later found that we had gone a little too far with “Big Brother – Red light Edition” then that cost is likely to have been offset by the economic benefits of lower injuries in the interim. Anyway, I hope that the bureaucratic wrangling over red-light cameras is now at an end and that central government will move out of the way so that AT can get on with the job of catching those damned drivers that selfishly and foolishly dare to cross the path of the green man. Your days are numbered!