Road deaths in Auckland have risen sharply in the first year that speeds were lowered as part of a bold new road safety vision to drastically reduce fatalities by 2030.
The number of deaths on Auckland roads almost doubled from 29 to 56 in the 12 months to the end of July this year. Serious injuries rose from 513 to 556 over the same period.
The rise comes after Auckland Transport adopted a Swedish road safety plan called Vision Zero where not one death is acceptable. AT has gone for reducing deaths and serious injuries by 65 per cent on the city’s roads by 2030 and zero by 2050.
One of the first steps was to reduce speed limits in the central city to 30km/h from June last year. Lower speeds were also introduced on some other urban and rural roads across
The sobering rise in deaths and serious injuries is a setback to AT, city leaders and the police who signed up to Vision Zero and gave a commitment to make roads safer for anyone travelling by car, public transport, bike or on foot.
The sharp rise in road fatalities reverses the trend of steadily declining figures from about 65 deaths in 2017 to the mid 40s before it hit a low of 29 last year.
Between January and July this year, 37 people were killed on Auckland roads, 20 more than the same time in 2020, which was affected by Covid-19.
And when it came to enforcing the new lower speeds in the central city, figures released to the Herald under the Official Information Act show the police issued 681 speeding tickets and no speed camera tickets in the first year, which equates to less than two tickets a day.
The level of enforcement has been a sore point between AT and the police with AT chairwoman Adrienne Young-Cooper and chief executive Shane Ellison writing to Police Commissioner Andy Coster in March expressing concerns about the level of road policing across the city. The letter also went to NZ Transport Agency chief executive Nicole Rosie because the agency funds road policing.
Waitemata District Commander Superintendent Naila Hassan said the police commitment to Vision Zero has not changed and they continue to play an important role in helping to make Auckland roads safer.
She said the police will take what they think is the most appropriate action to lead to road safety, whether it is education, compliance or enforcement.
“Policing our roads along cannot achieve the significant changes needed to prevent death and serious injury. Road safety is everyone’s responsibility,” Hassan said.
Ellison said the 56 deaths on Auckland roads in the last year is disappointing, but denied it was a setback for Vision Zero.
He attributed the higher death toll to two factors -several lockdowns and less travel on the roads last year contributing to the 29 deaths in the year to July last year; and the economic bounceback, possibly leading to more drink-driving, higher speeds and people not wearing seat belts and the higher death toll of 56 this year.
Since AT started to move down the Vision Zero path in 2018 the reduction in deaths and serious injuries had outperformed the targets, Ellison said.
He said AT commissioned road safety expert Colin Brodie to investigate road safety in the past nine to 12 months.
Brodie found the biggest increase in deaths and serious injuries was passengers in cars (not drivers), pedestrians and motorcyclists; factors included failing to wear a seatbelt, alcohol and speed; and the figures were spread across the network, not just known high-risk roads.
Mayor Phil Goff said it had been encouraging to see the number of deaths and serious injuries on Auckland roads trending downwards since 2017 and 2020, but was concerned to see an upswing in the first part of this year.
He said in March he wrote to Transport Minister Michael Wood and Police Minister Poto Williams urging them to increase enforcement efforts, such as roadside breath testing to make progress on reducing deaths and serious injuries.
“It is of real concern that 59 per cent of those killed(in the first part of this year) in vehicles were not wearing seat belts, and 36 per cent of road deaths involved proven or suspected use of alcohol. These are issues that stronger enforcement could impact on.
“Even a single death or serious injury is too many, so there is clearly more work to do,” said the mayor.
Chris Darby, the liaison councillor on the board of AT, said the sharp rise in deaths over the past year is very noticeable and AT is aware of it and rolling out lower speeds in other areas of the city.
“One of the great challenges is you can lower the speed limits, but your road design is the real determiner of speed. To really bring down speeds you have to get that road design changed and that requires big capital investment,” Darby said.
Waitematā and Gulf councillor Pippa Coom said everyone knew there would be a grace period when the lower speeds came in but it seemed to have dragged on far too long.
She said AT and the police need to lean on all the pillars to lower speed and improve road safety, including physical changes, education and enforcement.
She was surprised the police have not done targeted speed enforcement, especially in places where driver behaviour does make it more unsafe, such as areas with big pedestrian numbers.
“Anecdotally, it is clear drivers are not changing their habits around speed, and the physical environment hasn’t been changed enough to incentivise drivers to slow down,” Coom said.
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