Director of Land Transport, Kane Patena says driver distraction is a contributing factor in nearly 8 per cent 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 anecdota,” says Kane. “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.
This week marks the start of New Zealand’s first-ever experiment of deploying safety cameras to better understand the scope of distracted driving. The six-month Waka Kotahi project will begin on Tuesday, May 24, and will use data from three distinct safety cameras across Auckland. In Australia and the United Kingdom, similar cameras are already in use. The project will initially solely record cellphone usage, with intentions to include detection of those who aren’t wearing seatbelts later in the trial period.
“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,” says Kane. 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 Kane.
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 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.