Speed Tolerance gone

For a few years the police have been reducing the tolerance for people travelling over the speed limit during public holiday periods from 10km/h to 4km/h in a bid to reduce crashes. Now they plan to go further and remove the tolerance all together.

Motorists driving anywhere over the posted speed limit could land themselves a fine, as police do away with the notion of a “speed tolerance” for the summer period – a move that could be made permanent.

Police announced their “Reach the Beach” summer road safety campaign yesterday, the first to come without a 4km/h tolerance since Queen’s Birthday weekend in 2010.

Commissioner Mike Bush said drivers needed to forget the old message of a tolerance for driving less than 5km/h above the speed limit. “Do not drive at anything over the limit. That is a focus for us.”

He said it would be up to individual officers to decide whether to issue tickets for drivers caught driving only a small amount above the limit.

“It will depend upon the circumstances and our officers have always had discretion.”

Mr Bush said drivers often set their cruise control to what they believed the tolerance was, for example 110 km/h.

He advised drivers to set their cruise control to the limit, or just below, as any speed above the posted limit would warrant an infringement.

The zero tolerance could be a permanent part of road policing, Mr Bush said.

“We’ll assess that at the end of the campaign, but I can’t see us changing our approach on that.”

Although police would not be following a 4km/h tolerance this summer, speed cameras will have a threshold of 4km/h during December and January.

Last year’s Safer Summer campaign introduced a speed tolerance of 4km/h above the speed limit for all of December and January, rather than just over the Christmas and New Year period. Police reported a 36 per cent decrease in drivers exceeding the speed limit by 1-10km/h and a 45 per cent decrease for speeding in excess of 10km/h.

Fatal crashes decreased by 22 per cent over the summer campaign. Serious injury crashes decreased by 8 per cent.

Whether it will work and how hard it’s enforced is obviously yet to be seen however regardless it’s a move that is bound to generate plenty of letters to editors of papers all around the country.

What’s interesting from that article is also that Police minister and former Associate Transport Minister says he believes New Zealand could soon be realistic in setting a goal of zero road deaths. That’s definitely a worthy ambition but to get to that point there’s still a lot to do. So far this year 266 people have died on our roads which compares with 228 this time last year. In fact NZ’s total 2013 road toll was a record low 254 so we’ve already surpassed that.

Perhaps one thing that the police should do is crack down on cellphone use with 20% admitting they still text and drive.

The Drivers Index survey asked 1000 regular Kiwi drivers aged 18 and older to rate 12 distractions and found that while 84 per cent of respondents regarded texting and reading distracting, one in five Kiwis still send text messages while driving – with almost 50 per cent of younger drivers (18-24 years) flouting the law.

“Despite being illegal, texting remains the top driver distraction for the fourth consecutive year, while reading has risen from second position since last year,” said Amelia Macandrew of AA Insurance.

“Distractions are a major cause of accidents, with 10 per cent of drivers surveyed admitting they’d crashed because they were distracted.”

National Manager Road Policing, Superintendent Carey Griffiths said that between 2010-2012, driver distraction or “diverted attention” was a factor in around 11 per cent of fatal crashes, and 10 per cent of serious crashes.

“That represents 99 people killed and almost 5000 people injured over the three-year period.”

Mr Griffiths said it was disappointing that despite legislation banning drivers from using cellphones being in place since 2009, too many people are still choosing to put themselves and other innocent road users at risk.

“Given that we are now several years down the track, we don’t see any excuses for people still failing to comply with this legislation, and police will continue to target driver distraction and other forms of risky behaviour as appropriate.”

I’m constantly both amazed and scared at the number of people I see using their phone while driving, especially through intersections and I’m sure most people have some pretty bad examples that they’ve seen.

Pop Art

Should we charge tourists extra for driving on NZ roads?

There have been a few suggestions recently that international tourists should be paying more to drive in New Zealand, or have to pass a driving test, or things along those lines. Winston Aldworth, the Travel Editor at the Herald, wrote a column last week suggesting that we should charge a fee for tourists who want to drive on our roads, along the lines of a new scheme in Germany (which was also described in the Herald last week, although the article doesn’t seem to be online).

Would this scheme be fair in New Zealand?

Winston writes: “many tourists on these shores rely on (and clog up) the roads from Cape Reinga to Bluff. It seems fair they should chip in for maintenance and improvements”. It does indeed seem fair, but tourists already do pay for these things. It’s built into the cost of the petrol they use, or the Road User Charges if they hire a diesel vehicle. That money goes straight to the National Land Transport Fund, where it pays for all state highway costs and around half of local road costs (the rest comes from rates). So I don’t think it’s reasonable to suggest that international tourists aren’t paying their way.

Based on data from the Retail Trade Survey and Tourism Satellite Account, it seems that international tourists account for around 5-6% of sales in petrol stations. Clearly, most of the long-distance trips around the country are being done by Kiwis, not overseas visitors. It’s also likely that most of the trips taken by international tourists are on roads which aren’t particularly congested, and not really in need of upgrades. Most of these visitors don’t make it up to Cape Reinga or down to Bluff. International tourist spending is fairly heavily concentrated in just a few parts of the country, including Auckland, Queenstown, Rotorua and so on.

How much would this scheme raise?

Winston suggests that international visitors buy a $50 permit, which lets them drive for up to a year. “The money raised could go into a protected fund, ring-fenced from other spending… [and used] to kickstart funding on our most important roads”.

2.8 million visitors arrive in New Zealand each year, and when you take out those who won’t be driving and those who visit several times in the same year, you might be left with around half that number (just a guess). So, 1.4 million visitors times $50 gives $70 million – and I think I’m being generous with the figure, with not taking GST out of it, and not allowing for administration and compliance costs. Even so, it’s a drop in the bucket in terms of transport funding.

The Cook Islands

Winston points out that, for many years, the Cook Islands charged tourists $20 for a driver’s license, although they have recently gotten rid of the system. The situation in the Cooks is a bit different from NZ. They’ve got an economy which is almost entirely dependent on tourism. Their system was a way to get that little bit extra out of the tourists and into state coffers, and encourage tourists to visit the Avarua town centre (the police station is centrally located, and visitors will hopefully spend some money in the shops while they’re at it). It also gives the tourists a nice souvenir, which was a big part of not making them grumpy about the charge. Although, it seems, plenty got grumpy anyway – especially when they had a long wait for the license – and this seems to have been a big reason for dropping the system.

SAM_2433 smaller

The other interesting thing about the Cook Islands is that it clearly doesn’t raise enough tax revenue to maintain its roads, or its other infrastructure for that matter. It relies on international aid to make up the difference. But every time a New Zealander drives around Rarotonga, they’re being subsidised courtesy of that system.

Now, if we’re really wanting to earn more money from overseas visitors, we can either invest in our tourism offering (and we do), or ramp up our marketing (and we’re doing that too), or we can raise money for the government in a cheap-to-administer scheme like a departure tax or similar. But let’s not stick the poor buggers with some kind of overpriced driving permit.

Safer driving will lead to cheaper insurance

Warning, this post may sound a bit like an advertisement.

Last week I got invited to find out a new product from Tower insurance that’s launching today that they hope will not only lower car insurance costs but also help make driving safer. In a nutshell the product is a smartphone app that measures driving behaviour using GPS and the sensors in the phone. From that it works out if you’re good driver or not and if you are, can give you discounts off your car insurance of up to 20%.

For the first time in New Zealand, safe drivers can benefit from lower insurance premiums based on their individual driving performance – thanks to an innovative free smartphone app offered by TOWER.

SmartDriver’ monitors and assesses an individual’s driving behaviour based on 250 kilometres of travel.  Drivers who score well can then gain a discount on motor premiums of up to 20 per cent.

TOWER Chief Executive Officer David Hancock says TOWER’s strategy of innovating for the benefit of its customers is evidenced by the launch of SmartDriver. TOWER is always looking for ways to improve its risk profile, while lowering costs and providing enhanced value for customers.

“The insurance industry does not have a reputation for innovation, but TOWER is committed to delivering relevant products and better value to customers to help them protect the things they care about. This app is the first of its kind to be launched in Australasia.

“We’re really excited about SmartDriver’s potential to help customers in two ways – saving safe drivers money on premiums and encouraging safer driving for all New Zealanders.”

It’s all part of a move towards risk based pricing where those that present less risk pay less.

TOWER General Manager – Customer Proposition Mark Savage says the app means motor vehicle insurance premiums can now be determined using an individual’s driving behaviour, rather than solely relying on averaged claims risk and demographic data such as age and location.

“This kind of user-based-insurance – or UBI – has the potential to dramatically change the motor insurance market. TOWER has been monitoring the overseas experience for some time and we felt as a nation of drivers it made perfect sense to introduce it here.

“UBI provides fairer pricing to customers based on their driving, not just that of the population at large.  And there is the huge advantage of making those using the app more conscious of their behaviour on the road.”

Mr Savage says telematics, the technology behind UBI, enables driving data to be gathered and transmitted directly from a vehicle on the road to the insurer. The insurer can monitor, analyse, score and then adjust premiums accordingly.

“By collecting basic driving information such as trip duration, distance travelled, location, braking and acceleration, we can build an understanding of driving behaviour and individual risk and adjust premiums accordingly. The app also allows customers to see their score versus the average score calculated from all the SmartDriver users who have completed 250 kilometres using the app.”

Tower have said that this is just a first step on the road to greater risk based pricing and they said giving discounts for those that have a car but who might be using PT, walking or cycling during the week might be considered in the future. I certainly hope it’s something that happens.

While the insurance aspect is obviously the key point of the app, it’s the potential impacts on driver safety that interest me the most. Tower said that amongst staff who helped trial the app, they found driving behaviour improved the more they used it through a combination of driving at slower speeds as well as smoother accelerating and braking. One of the key ways Tower have managed to achieve this is through the gameification in the app that gives points for better driving, achievements and leaderboards. That means that even if someone does the same trip every day there can be an incentive to constantly improve. I’ve been trialling the app and certainly noticed myself trying harder to be a better driver.

I also think there are some potentially interesting implications from this kind of technology. For example as the app keeps a record including a map of the trip taken, parents concerned about their kids driving (if they’re driving at all ;-)) could require them to use the app and show them the results. Of course if that were to happen it would probably just push even more young people to simply not bother getting a licence, using other modes to get around.

So here are some images of what the app looks like.

Opening the app you simply push start for it to start recording your journey and stop again to end it. Only journeys of more than 2km count towards getting a score.

Tower Smartdriver app 1

At the end of each valid trip you get marked. Also notice the gameification elements (most of mine are like the one on the left)

Tower Smartdriver app 3

Delving into a trip gives more details. As you can see I went to Warkworth on Friday afternoon. Despite moderate traffic it flowed smoothly except for one part around Schedewys Hill where I got marked down for braking due to a truck crawling up the hill (fixing that part of the route is one of the few things that need doing to the P2W route). Note these aren’t the same trips as the images above.

Tower Smartdriver app 2

And here are the gameification elements which comprise of leaderboards and achievements. I would love to see something similar for HOP card users to encourage more PT trips. You have to register through the app to get these results and the official score after completion of 250km but it isn’t required to monitor individual trips.

Tower Smartdriver app 4

The app generally seems to work well but there are a few improvements I’d like to see e.g while the app is running it prevents the screen from turning off which is a pain, on Android the back button seems buggy and often backs out of the app rather than going back to the previous screen. It would also be great for them to tie in the app to a mapping app and surely it would be worthwhile measuring if someone is using a phone at the same time as driving.

Overall I think this is a good move by tower and the use of technology to improve driver safety is something I definitely support, a view obviously shared by Ernst Zollner who is also the NZTA’s new regional director for Auckland and Northland/

Ernst Zӧllner, Road Safety Director at the NZ Transport Agency, says any technology that has the potential to contribute to making New Zealand roads safer for users is positive.

“Creating a safe road system depends on safer vehicles, users, roads and roadsides, and safer speeds. It’s really good to see a private insurer sharing responsibility for improving road safety by using technology and incentivising smart choices. This is consistent with Safer Journeys, the Government’s road safety strategy to 2020.”

Stopping the “blame game” – Improving road safety in NZ


Trust 2014 is treating everyone well thus far. For my part I‘ve spent the last month or so travelling through the Netherlands, Germany, Norway, Sweden, France, and now Austria. Tomorrow I begin the long (28 hour) journey back to Auckland, where I hope the best part of summer will be ready to greet me. 

While I’m looking forward to getting home (as always), travelling through northern and western Europe has helped to highlight some unfortunate aspects of road safety in NZ. And the difference is not only associated with infrastructure. On my travels I’ve cycled in several countries and been impressed by the empathy demonstrated by drivers towards other road users in general, and pedestrians and cyclists in particular.

In the recent debates in NZ over cycle safety I’ve noticed many people looking to “blame” cyclists for the injuries they sustain. In the following post I will outline why I think this “blame game” is disingenuous and unhelpful. 

Two common arguments are advanced to heap blame on cyclists and in the process make people who identify as drivers feel better about themselves.

The first argument attempts to depict cyclists as reckless “law-breakers” whose carelessness is the primary cause of their injuries. In this recent post, however, Matt analysed traffic infringements and found that cyclists receive fewer infringement notices per kilometre than drivers. Meanwhile, the MoT has found that in the vast majority (64%) of accidents involving cyclists, the latter are not at fault. From these two statistics alone it seems clear that cyclists are not an especially reckless bunch of people.

The second argument portrays cyclists as dependent “bludgers” who do not contribute to the upkeep of the transport facilities they use and/or demand, because they do not pay registration and/or fuel excise duties. As Matt notes in his post, however, approximately 50% of transport funding is sourced from local property rates, some of which will – of course – be collected from cyclists. The latter will also tend to be fitter and healthier, and thereby impose a smaller fiscal burden on the health system (which is by far the largest area of government expenditure). For these two reasons the net contribution of cyclists to government coffers is unclear – it may well be that cyclists kick in more than is spent on them.

The absence of supporting evidence belies this for the psychological trick that it really is: People are trying to shift the blame for road safety outcomes from themselves (as a group) and onto another. The (usually unstated) thought-pattern seems to go something like this: “If only cyclists would 1) follow the road rules and 2) contribute to transport funding, then they would deserve to be safe from injury. But until they do, I’m not going to consider how changes to the way I drive could contribute to improved road safety outcomes.”

Not only are the above two arguments unsupported by evidence, but they are also not particularly helpful – the following personal experience may help illustrate why blame itself is a largely unhelpful emotion in discussions of road safety.

In 1990 my dad was involved in a serious road accident caused by intoxicated driver who came around a corner on the wrong side of the road. My father was not to blame at all. Dad was helicoptered to hospital with a punctured lung, a ruptured aorta, and a leg that was broken in three places. While his heart stopped briefly in hospital, the staff at Middlemore Hospital worked some medical magic and managed to bring him back.

While my father managed to survive his accident, he would never recover fully from the injuries he sustained.

He could work no more than 20 hours per week, which in turn required that my mother returned to work – rather than stay home with her four children as she had planned. As for us, we were too young to really understand what had happened. All we knew was that 1) Dad could no longer play cricket with us so much; 2) Mum was more tired and stressed; and 3) our new house took 20 years to finish rather than 2.

Here’s the key point: The fact my father was not to blame for his car accident was of absolutely no comfort my family. We did not sit there happy and self-righteous because he was not to blame. No, we sat there and mulled how we could get on with our lives as best we could.

A culture of blame does not help those affected by road accidents one jot. And it has the very undesirable effect of dulling our collective responsibility for improving road safety, because it makes easier for people to persist with their current driving habits. 

When it comes to road accidents, our first emotional response should be one of empathy for all those affected, regardless of who is at fault. Incidentally, that is why I like this road safety advertisement so much: Both drivers have clearly erred, with tragic consequences. Indeed, the magnitude of the consequences seem disproportionate to the errors involved. Small, all-too-human errors can have major consequences.

The primary point of this advertisement is worth keeping in mind: We all make mistakes and these mistakes have repercussions that extend well beyond the drivers involved. In this video, for example, the boy sitting in the back of the car is the innocent bystander who bears no blame for the accident – yet will obviously experience the physical and emotional trauma that flows from the accident, if he survives.

To sum up: I’d like to see us abandon the “culture of blame” that characterises road safety discussions in NZ. Statistically and anecdotally, it seems fairly clear to me that NZ has a widespread road safety problem, i.e. we are dying and being hurt on our roads in numbers that are high compared to many other countries.

The Netherlands, for example, has a road death rate that is approximately half that of NZ’s. Think of it this way: Families in the Netherlands are half as likely to experience the life-long trauma and suffering that comes from losing a loved one suddenly and unexpectedly. Even Norway – which has roads that are steep and often icy and treacherous – has a per capita road death rate that is one-third lower than that found in NZ.

Sometimes I wish that improved road safety could become a “national sport” of sorts, whereby each and every year NZers strive to reduce the death/injury toll compared to the previous year. And when we do, we pat ourselves on the back and resolve to doing even better next year.

Even so-called “perfect drivers” still have a social role to play in improving road safety outcomes. Whether by preventing friends and family from driving when tired, or encouraging others to slow down and drive safely around cyclists – we can all make a positive contribution to roads safety in NZ.

While there’s much to be positive about insofar as NZ’s recent road safety trends are concerned, some aspects of the underlying discourse concerns me. Rather than investing all our energy into debating out exactly who is to blame in every individual accident, let’s instead take some time to step back and reflect on our collective responsibility for keeping each other safe.

*** This post is dedicated to all those whose loved ones have been killed or injured on NZ’s roads ***

Focusing on safety

One of the big reasons for making improvements to our streets is simply for safety. Safety for pedestrians, safety for cyclists and safety for drivers. We’ve been talking about safety a lot over the last month or so and despite the great news that 2013 has the lowest road toll in New Zealand for over 60 years, it’s still way too high.

One of the lessons New York has learned as a result of its roll out of bike lanes is that not only does it make the streets safer for cyclists but for all users of a street. The reason for this is often quite simple, far too many of our streets have been designed with only the movement of cars in mind. This often means roads with wide traffic lanes, big intersections to try and cater for all movements and as few pieces of pedestrian/cycling infrastructure as possible.

Cities like New York are striving to improve safety and despite the impressive gains that they’ve made so far it clearly isn’t enough and last year 286 people were killed on traffic crashes – or as some are now calling it “Traffic Violence”. Bill De Blasio, the new mayor of New York has just announced what he calls “Vision Zero” which is a vision to reduce that traffic violence to zero.

Just two weeks after his inauguration, New York mayor Bill de Blasio did something safe street advocates have been demanding for years. The mayor outlined comprehensive changes in the city’s approach to traffic fatalities, treating the issue as “a public health problem” and ordering city government branches to pull together to reduce those deaths to zero.


In his remarks on Wednesday, de Blasio put traffic safety in the spotlight. “I said on Inauguration Day that we were here to make changes, and I meant it,” he said. “This is an example of where we will act immediately.”

The mayor pointed out that last year, the city hit a record low of 333 homicides, but that nearly as many people – 286, by last count – died in traffic. “It is shocking to see how those two numbers correspond,” he said. He noted that motor vehicle crashes are the leading cause of injury-related death among New Yorkers younger than 14, and the second-leading cause of injury-related deaths among New York’s seniors.

The mayor’s approach calls for an unprecedented coordination among the NYPD, the city’s Department of Transportation, its Department of Health, and the Taxi Commission. De Blasio said he wants to see detailed plans from the leaders of those agencies by February 15.

As a comparison, Auckland had 48 deaths on the road in 2013 which on a per capita rate is about the same as New York (and for those interested the murder rate in Auckland to 30 June 2013 was 41)

Perhaps it’s time for Len Brown and the council to announce something similar.

One change that De Blasio singled out is that on many streets the speed limit was simply too high and that reducing them to 20 mph (30kph) would be more appropriate. In Auckland the only streets I can think of off the top of my head that have lower speed limits than 50 km/h are Queen St (30 km/h) and Ponsonby Rd (40km/h) and the shared spaces. To me expanding the number of streets that have lower speed limits is something that could be done fairly quickly and cheaply if there was the political will to do so.

Closer to home Wellington has just announced it is looking at extending the area covered by its 30km’h speed limit in the CBD

A central-city slowdown is looming for Wellington motorists as a 30kmh speed limit is considered for a further 64 streets.

Public feedback will be sought next month on a proposal to extend the 30kmh speed limit from the Golden Mile to the rest of the central business district, where the limit is now 50kmh.

The change would cost about $250,000, and include parts of The Terrace and Taranaki, Tory, Willis, Featherston, Ghuznee and Dixon streets. The harbour quays and Vivian St would not be included.

Extending the 30kmh limit recognised that pedestrian safety problems were not caused only by buses, and were not restricted to the Golden Mile, Wellington City Council transport and urban development committee chairman Andy Foster said.

Most drivers were probably driving at about 30kmh already, but officially reducing the speed would help bring the top speeds down. “That, obviously, is something that is highly desirable.”

Cutting the speed was also about improving the chance of surviving crashes. People would always make mistakes, but the consequences for pedestrians at 30kmh were a lot less serious than at 50kmh, he said.

The plan has gained tentative support from other road users. NZ Bus general manager strategy Scott Thorne said the company supported moves to improve safety, and the change was unlikely to have much impact on travel times.

While in Christchurch the plan is also to have 30km/h speed limits through the central city. It’s something that raised the ire of some including TVNZ’s seven sharp reporter however the results of a time test weren’t quite what they expected.

Seven Sharp christchurch speed

Is Auckland Transport planning on doing anything like this? Evidence so far suggests it is not.

Traffic infringements in NZ

Along with the article about red light running yesterday the Herald also ran a story yesterday with the headline of 10,000 fined for no helmet, some get speeding tickets. With the two articles combined its almost as if they were trying to paint all cyclists in a bad light as law breakers. 10,000 fines issued for not wearing a helmet might seem like a lot. Just to put things in perspective the Ministry of Transport say that helmet use is at 93% nationwide – that’s similar to the number of people that wear seatbelts. Today there are more cycling articles in the paper and in one the bus union leader peddling another perennial favourite in this debate – that cyclists should be registered. But motor vehicles are registered, surely that must surely mean they all obey the rules?

I’m not here to argue about the use of helmets or to defend those that don’t wear them. What the helmet article did though was get me thinking about how many infringements were issued to other road users. Thankfully this is a question that had been asked last year by one of our readers and the data he obtained shows the number of all traffic offences issued for the year 1 July 2011 to 30 June 2012. All up (including the 10,000 for not wearing a helmet) there were a massive 1,615,741 infringements issued. So what were they all for?

Here are some of the common offences infringements are issued for.

  • Parking offences – 7,000 (note this is only parking offences issued by the police).
  • Driving while using a mobile phone – 11,700
  • Alcohol or Drugs related – 30,500
  • Intersection issues (i.e. failing to stop at a stop sign or traffic light) – 44,800
  • Not wearing a seatbelt or not having a child correctly restrained – 58,000
  • Car Registration issues – 122,600
  • Warrant of Fitness issues – 125,300
  • Driver licencing issues – 196,400
  • And the biggest one of them all …… Speeding – 918,400

There are some big numbers in there, especially the speeding number. I guess vehicle registration really helped stop people breaking the road rules.

Some might try to argue that the lower number of overall cycling offences recorded is just a reflection that fewer people cycle. A quick analysis using the MoTs data about vehicle km’s travelled and cycle km’s travelled suggests that on a per km basis, cyclists travel further between infringements that other drivers do – one infringement every 28,000 km’s for cycling and every 25,000 km’s for driving. Another way to look at it is that cycling makes up 1.4% of all transport trip legs but only 0.7% of all issued traffic infringements. Suggestions by some that we should only look to improve cycling infrastructure once cyclists start obeying the law perhaps need to take a look at the full picture first. No one group is perfect and mistakes will be made. As I said yesterday the only thing we can do is to try and build our city so that if a mistake is made then they don’t have to pay for it with their life.

I also think that the comments made by Michael Barnett of the Chamber of Commerce were very good in this regard – even though he was also using the incident to push for the motorway to be extended to the port.

Chamber chief Michael Barnett says an Auckland Transport survey showing many cyclists running red lights does not excuse a lack of action on projects to protect them and other road users – especially large trucks – from each other.

Lastly the reader who obtained the traffic incident data above grouped it and compared it with the number of accidents that caused an injury. There were 9545 injuries in total and here are the results he came up with.

Injuries vs Infringments

No one should pay for a mistake with their life

No one should pay for a mistake with their life.

That’s the key message being pushed by the NZTA ad that’s gone viral and now has over 5.6 million views (up from 440k when I posted about it last Wednesday). It’s a key part of the way we design many roads, for example it’s why we have barriers between motorway lanes, light poles that are designed to shear off at the base if someone accidentally hits them. It’s also why we spend money to improve our roads through the likes of easing corners and why transport agencies run advertising campaigns.

The sad event last week where a cyclist died after apparently running a red light and crashing into a truck is obviously a horrific situation but instead of asking what can be done to make things better so it doesn’t happen again, most seem to only be focusing on who was at fault. Now just so everyone is clear on my thoughts, I think there is no excuse for anyone using any mode of transport to be barrelling straight through an intersection on a red light – it’s a recipe for disaster.

The reality is people make mistakes or poor judgement calls all of the time yet when a cyclist makes one it seems to bring out an absolute hatred towards them from some in the community. Just like for cars and trucks, the only way to effectively minimise the risk of cycling is through improved infrastructure that reduces the risks. It’s an area that many people think AT have very poor at despite what they have said they are doing. Now this isn’t completely AT’s fault, the government policy statement that spells out the funding bands for each mode and only allows for very small amounts of the total transport budget to be used for cycling and walking projects – despite many projects performing substantially better under standard economic analysis than many of the massive roading projects currently on the agenda.

However in what appears to be a bid to draw attention away from questions of what can be done to improve conditions for everyone using roads, Auckland Transport appear to wanting to play the blame game by suggesting that not just this one cyclist made a mistake but by implying that it is something endemic among all cyclists and therefore implying that cyclists deserve the consequences of whatever happens to them. I think this is an extremely sad development in what is already a sad situation. To do this they released the results of a survey on red light running however the numbers actually raise far more questions than answers.

The headlines were that of the intersections surveyed there were 116 cars, 4 trucks, 3 buses, 1 motorcycle and 217 cyclists that ran red lights – although it appears there are a few counting errors but they don’t fundamentally change the result. Now the results sound really bad but here’s the thing, the survey was only done at four intersections across all of Auckland and three of them (the three that saw the most cyclists running red lights) were along the waterfront (not that this excuses it). When we look at the results by intersection this is what we get.

AT Cycling Survey

A couple of quick thoughts spring to mind about these intersections, on Quay St/Lower Albert is it cyclists travelling through the intersection while the pedestrian phase is running? On Tamaki Dr are the numbers high due to pack cycling? At Tamaki Dr/Paterson Ave there was clear trend of cyclists running red lights towards the city in the mornings and away from the city in the afternoons. On both the Quay St/Lower Albert and Tamaki Dr/Solent St intersections the red light running by cyclists was almost exclusively by those going westbound. Why are westbound cyclists more likely to run reds at the intersections (perhaps at the Solent St intersection it is to do with the cycle lane on the footpath being clogged up with traffic signals?

Solent Ave Intersection

However as I said, there were really just four intersections that were studied and I doubt they give a fair representation about how most cyclists at intersections behave. By releasing the information as it has I wonder if AT have done more harm than just letting the issue blow over. The information and how it has been reported in the Herald and other sites is only helping to create an us vs them attitude between different modes which is exactly the opposite of what needs to be happening.

In saying all of this it’s also useful to understand why cyclists may run red lights. This research from Daniel Newcombe at AT helps to shed some light on the issue. The learnings were that

  • Cyclists make choices about their behaviour on an intersection-by-intersection basis
  • Overall, cyclists’ red light running is a relatively infrequent and safe behaviour
  • Levels of red light running vary but (if use of Barnes Dance phases excluded) it’s the same as jaywalking (3.9%)
  • Higher numbers of vehicles ran red lights than cyclists but the proportion was lower (1.2%)
  • Cyclists want to clear the intersection ahead of other vehicles for safety reasons – not impatience
  • Commonly cyclists run red lights to turn left

And what can be done?

  • Sensor loops in the right place
  • More cycle lanes and boxes
  • Use technology to give cyclists head start
  • Legalise low risk red light running (Barnes Dance, left turn) – make cyclists give way
  • Stop slagging off cyclists for running red lights. Pedestrians are just as bad and neither group kills people like the alarming number of cars running reds

It seems AT need to heed their own advice on all of the recommendations that were made.

Note: Here is Cycle Action Auckland’s response to the survey results and things that  can be done to improve safety.

Lastly let’s stop pretending that only cyclists are the ones breaking road rules. There must be 10’s of thousands of speeding tickets issued each year along with thousands of other traffic offences. This study from the Ministry of Transport suggests that in Auckland 5% of the people they checked were either holding a cellphone to their ear or probably texting while driving

Once again we need to stop blaming people and start building our roads so that they are safe if people make mistakes because people don’t deserve to die because they make them.

NZTA Speeding ad going viral

An NZTA road safety ad about the dangers of speeding is going viral and getting a lot of positive attention overseas already racking up over 440,000 views on YouTube. The ad shows that while individuals might feel in control and even comfortable driving at speed that it doesn’t mean that someone else might make a mistake. I have seen a lot of comments from overseas and across multiple forums say that it really effective at getting its message across, much more so than they are used too. I suspect that part of reason for this is that it does a good job of personalising the tragedy. These days people are probably so desensitised to road safety ads that they’re easier to dismiss when it’s just an inanimate object involved but when people can connect with the driver it’s much more powerful. .

No one should pay for a mistake with their life. When we drive, we share the road with others, so the speed we choose to travel at needs to leave room for any potential error.

Good work NZTA

It still has a way to go to pass the Ghost Chips ad from a few years ago which racked up more than 2.5 million views.

Public supporting lower speed tolerance

One of the increasing features of road safety in recent years has been the introduction of the reduced tolerance for speeding down to 4km/h. It started a few years ago on long holiday weekends and is currently being trialled over December and January. Positively the Herald reports that the public seem to be supportive of the measure because at the end of the day it is about improving safety.

A summer crackdown on speeding which will lead to fines for drivers travelling more than 4km/h above the legal limit is strongly supported by the public, a Herald-DigiPoll survey shows.

Police have previously lowered the speed tolerance from 10km/h to 4km/h at long weekends and public holidays, but the lower threshold has been in force for all of December and runs until the end of January.

If the 62-day trial is successful, it could mark the end of the 10km/h speed tolerance.

The poll showed that two-thirds of respondents felt that the policy was fair because it was about safety. Just 29 per cent said that it was unfair and was about raising revenue.

Police Minister Anne Tolley said the high level of support for the lower speed tolerance was encouraging, and showed that New Zealanders were taking the message to slow down seriously.

“This is a special time of year when New Zealanders should be enjoying time with their families and friends and I don’t want anyone to have to suffer the trauma of being told that a loved one has been killed on our roads,” she said.

One of the reasons the public are likely much more acceptable of the measure than they would have been in the past is that we simply aren’t driving as fast as we used to.

Ministry of Transport data showed that the proportion of New Zealanders speeding on the open road had reduced since records began 17 years ago. In 1996, the mean car speed was 102km/h and 56 per cent of drivers travelled more than 100km/h. In 2012, the mean speed was 95.6km/h and just 25 per cent of drivers exceeded the 100km/h limit.

The change in drivers who drive over the speed limit is quite substantial. On the Ministry’s website they have the data (although only back to 2000) including the speeds on urban roads have also been coming down – although still over 50% of drivers are traveling above 50km/h. This surely has to be one of the big factors in the reducing road toll. It would be really interesting to see what would happen if we reduced the urban speed limit to 40km/h (or even 30km/h) like is happening in many places overseas.

Speeds on NZ Roads

They also have data for the speeds on roads in each region and while Aucklanders are now some of the slowest drivers on open roads, we are some of the fastest on urban roads despite the averages having come down. The graph below shows how Auckland compares to the figures above.

Speeds on Auckland Roads

You can see the results for all regions in the tables below.

Urban Speeds on NZ Roads - table


Open Road Speeds on NZ Roads - table

Road toll lowest in over 60 years

Some good news to start the new year with the road toll ending up the lowest in over 60 years. The provisional figure for 2013 is 254 which is more than 50 fewer than 2012 however that is up from the 243 it was nine days earlier when I wrote this post. The Christmas Holiday period road toll is currently sitting at 6, the same level it was for the entire holiday period last year but there are still a few days to go yet. I don’t have the information for injuries for this year yet but you can see how they compare to road deaths up to 2012 in the graph below

Road Toll 2013 - 1

And here is the road death info by a few other metrics. Interesting how closely the deaths per 100,000 population tracks with the deaths per Vehicle Kilometres Travelled. Would be good to get VKT data back further than 2001 if it exists.

Road Toll 2013 by Pop, Veh, Vkt - 1

Hopefully this year we can see the toll reduce further.