Camera-equipped drones are being trialled by police to help gather evidence and map the scenes of fatal and serious crashes.
Waikato is the first policing region in the country to begin a six-month trial of the technology, which police say can aid crash analysis and cut down on costs and the length of time roads are closed.
Waikato road policing manager Inspector Freda Grace with one of the drones being trialled at fatal and serious crashes. Photo: Kaycie O’Connor/Fairfax NZ
In a demonstration at one of the riskiest intersections in the Waikato – State Highway 29 and State Highway 27 - on Tuesday morning, Waikato Road policing manager Inspector Freda Grace says police would be calling in radio-controlled camera-equipped copters to provide a bird’s eye view of crash scenes.
The technology, used alongside existing analysis techniques, will give crash investigators a broader and formerly unseen view of a crash, she says.
“Currently, if a serious crash occurs, roads and highways need to be closed to allow for the extraction of casualties, recovery of damaged vehicles and the mapping out of crash scenes, all of which can be quite time-consuming, can involve long waits and lengthy road diversions.
“What the drone will enable us to do is that exact same feature in a much faster and real-time environment.”
Already this year, 39 people have died in 36 crashes on Waikato roads.
Each fatal crash has an average social cost of $3.98 million, according to the Ministry of Transport. For every person seriously injured, it costs $419,000, and every minor injury $22,400.
“A lot of that cost is related to treatment and rehabilitation, but another large component is the cost associated with the closing of roads - there’s the cost of getting contractors out and the economy of not being able to use that section of road,” Grace says.
Using drones could significantly reduce the time a road would remain closed, Grace says, making use of drones imperative at holiday hotspots like the Coromandel, where the population swells from 15,000 to 130,000 over summer.
“If you have a serious crash on the roading network up there, you are looking at considerable delays, as there are very few diversions available.”
The $35,000 machine police are contracting from a Hamilton-based company will be available to respond to any serious or fatal crash across the Waikato this summer.
Its operators will work alongside the serious crash unit, using multiple cameras and zooms to obtain views up to a kilometre out from a crash scene.
Although infrared capability is possible, Grace says drones will primarily be used during daylight hours or when a road is shut.
Grace says police will be working with NZTA on using drone information to identify risk factors and capture road landscapes.
“We get a broader context to a crash and may see other environmental causes and what we can do to prevent it,” Grace says.
Police in the Waikato are trailing drones to help in the serious crash unit investigations. Photo: Rebekah Parsons-King/Fairfax NZ