Cameras to catch motorists breaking red lights at notorious blackspots have lain idle or not been installed for more than five years despite transport chiefs being warned they were crucial in preventing “serious injury or even death”.
Red light infringements are mainly to blame for Luas collisions in Dublin, particularly at three dangerous junctions – Blackhall Place, Con Colbert Road and Queen Street – where detection cameras were to be set up in 2010.
The National Transport Authority (NTA), which has overall responsibility for the scheme, has admitted the camera at Blackhall Place has been unused since 2016, while the other two were never installed.
In a report on the cameras, commissioned by Transport Infrastructure Ireland (TII), the NTA was warned of a "major concern" about the safety of Luas passengers as a result of widespread red-light running in the capital.
The internal study, seen by The Irish Times, showed 813 violations by buses, cars, vans, taxis and cyclists over a 164-day initial test period during the first three months of 2010 – an average of five a day.
Twelve offences involved road users breaking the red light more than 50 seconds after it appeared, 410 drove through the junction between five and 50 seconds after the red light appeared, while 391 detections were within five seconds.
Of the offences, 139 happened during rush hour between 7am and 9:30am, while 155 occurred between 9:31am and noon.
Cars and vans were the worst offenders (337), followed by cyclists (254), taxis (136) and buses or coaches (24).
By the third “enforcement” phase of the scheme – the final three months of 2016 – the number of offences had halved.
The TII report, completed in June 2016, noted red-light cameras were bought from traffic and transport specialists Elmore Group and a contract for their operation was agreed almost six years previously.
It states the “main contributory factor” for Luas crashes “is the high number of road traffic collisions” and that analysis proved “the main causation factor is red-light infringement by road vehicles at signalised junctions where the Luas interfaces with road traffic”.
Just applying the emergency brake on Luas trams can also “cause minor injuries to unsuspecting Luas passengers”, with 43-metre long trams carrying a capacity of 285 commuters.
Similar technology has been successful "worldwide, in countries including Australia, Canada, the United Kingdom, Singapore and the United States", it was noted.
The technology could be “applied to other junctions in Dublin, and in other parts of the country, where motorists breaking red lights is particularly problematic”.
Its ongoing operation at Blackhall Place and installation at Queen Street was “paramount” for safety, the TII insisted.
The report also makes a compelling economic case for the detection cameras.
Citing a Department of Transport-commissioned study by consultants Goodbody, it states the "cost" of a death as a result of a collision is €2,280,000, serious injury €304,600, slight injury €30,000 and material damage €2,400.
The “cost saving” from preventing just one serious injury “will pay for the cost of the installation and maintenance of a red-light camera system at approximately four signal locations,” the report advised.
This suggests a cost of less than €76,000 for each camera.
According to the latest TII annual report, there was one death on the Luas network in 2020 and three in 2019. There were 18 collisions in 2020, and 38 in 2019. Motorists breaking red lights “accounted for 10” collisions in 2020.
Red-light offences incur three penalty points and an €80 fine, rising to €120 if not paid within 28 days. There were no successful court appeals against prosecutions as a result of the pilot scheme.
Despite the dramatic reduction in red-light running during the scheme, “the continued high level of red light infringements by motorists at Luas junctions is a major concern,” the TII report states.
“The potential consequences of a tram collision are much higher due to the number of Luas passengers who may be injured, the damage to the tram, and the delays to the tram network.
“Red-light running has emerged as a particular danger.”
The NTA has admitted the camera at Blackhall Place has been inactive since December 2016 while cameras “have not yet been installed at the Con Colbert Road and Queen Street junctions”.
“It was recognised that tendering for equipment and services for just one or two junctions would not provide a system that would be scalable contractually to cover other junctions, other areas and other offence types,” an NTA spokesman said.
“Work needs to be done by the proposed working group to identify the scale and ambit of the overall camera enforcement system, which will then allow the appropriate structuring of the procurement process to meet the potential scope of the system and ensure that the system and any operational contract are sized correctly.”
The Department of Transport confirmed the “working group” has yet to be established.
Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan’s department oversees a commitment for camera technology enforcement in the Government’s Road Safety Strategy 2021-2030, and “is currently considering the establishment of a working group to bring forward this action”, a spokeswoman said.