We’ve all experienced it. You’re stopped at a red light. The light turns green and, just as you’re about to accelerate, a car hurtles through the intersection from the adjacent road, crossing right in front of you.

The driver has obviously run a red light and, once the shock and anger pass, you’re left pondering what a split-second difference in timing could have meant.  The consequences of side-impact crashes are devastating and, of course, even worse when it’s a cyclist or pedestrian on the wrong end.

Every year, two or three people are killed on our roads in crashes involving red light running, and another 30 people are seriously injured, out of a total of between 600-700 such crashes.

The bulk of those crashes are in Auckland, but there are plenty in other centres, too. In fact, cities like Hamilton, Christchurch and Dunedin all have significantly higher rates of red light running crashes than Auckland on a per capita basis.

For AA Members, few things that other drivers do get under their skin like red light running. It’s not just the risk red light runners pose to themselves and to all other road users; AA Members also see it as selfish and inconsiderate.

The most recent survey of Auckland AA Members on this issue, in late 2019, showed over 80% support for increased enforcement of red light running through the roll-out of more red light cameras. Previous surveys have shown similar support right around the country.

The AA has long campaigned for more to be done to address red light running. While the number of casualties is far smaller than that caused by speed- and alcohol-related crashes, red light running is an area where important gains can be made with relatively small investment.

So what needs to happen? For a start, we need more red light cameras right around the country. When used correctly, red light cameras are a highly effective and affordable way to reduce road trauma. Deploying red light cameras is ultimately the responsibility of the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA), but under this Government and the last, nothing has been done to increase the number of cameras in operation.

In 2017, Auckland Transport took the initiative and funded its own red light camera programme. There are now 18 ‘next-generation’ cameras in Auckland, with plans for up to eight more in the next year, and a further 16 by 2024.

But how many are there outside Auckland? Only one. Yes, just one, in Wellington. Ideally, what we’d see is the Auckland approach rolled out across all the main centres, resulting in at least another 20 cameras around the country.

Of course, red light cameras won’t always be the answer, and should only be deployed when they’re actually going to make a difference. Sometimes, red light running has more to do with people not actually being able to see traffic lights (because they’re obscured by multiple sets of lights close together, or trees or signage) or being so frustrated by excessive and unnecessary waiting times at intersections that they make poor decisions.

In these situations, changes to intersection layout and traffic light phasing need to be looked at, too.

Otherwise, if the focus only goes on enforcement, the risk is that little will be achieved in the way of behaviour change, with the only outcome being a big increase in the number of fines being issued.

The AA also believes that a bigger fine for red light running (currently, the fine is $150) will need to be looked at when the Government reviews the wider traffic fines regime this year. In the most recent AA Member survey, 70% of respondents felt the current fine was too small.

Lastly, there’s a need for more education. Not just reminding people of the potential consequences of red light running, but helping them understand the types of mistakes and misjudgements that commonly lead to the most dangerous red light running, such as accelerating on an orange light in an effort to beat the end of the phase, which results in a higher speed through the intersection – often the worst possible place. 

Reported by Barney Irvine for our AA Directions Autumn 2020 issue

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