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School bus trial aims to save children’s lives

MEDIA RELEASE 28 August 2013

School bus trial aims to save children’s lives

Saving the lives of school children is the aim of a national trial launched in Ashburton today (Wednesday 28 August) to get motorists to slow down when passing a school bus stopped to let children on or off.

Thirty school buses in Mid Canterbury have been fitted front and back with flashing 20km/h signs - the legal speed limit when passing a stationary school bus - to get drivers to slow down.

The NZ Transport Agency’s Southern Regional Director Jim Harland says 23 school children have been killed in New Zealand during the last 25 years when crossing the road to or from school buses, and another 47 have been seriously injured.

“A perception survey in July of 700 Mid Canterbury motorists found 40% of drivers said they did not slow down to 20km/h past school buses that have stopped to pick up or drop off children. The survey also found that 35 per cent of drivers did not even know that 20km/h was the legal speed limit.”

Data collected to date as part of the trial shows that most motorists are speeding past school buses, with bus drivers reporting “less than one in 20 slows down past a school bus”.

The trial is being run by Transport Engineering Research New Zealand (TERNZ) with funding from the Road Safety Trust (NZ Transport Agency), and supported by the local police, Ashburton District Council and Rural Women New Zealand.

Mr Harland says the aim of the trial is to educate motorists on the 20km/h speed limit. “The Either way it’s 20k campaign has been running in Ashburton for the last two months, raising awareness of the legal speed limit and the need to slow down.”

The illuminated 20km/h signs with flashing beacons have been fitted on 30 buses operated by Pearsons Coachlines. The company has the contract for 27 school bus runs from the Rangitata to Rakaia, bringing children to schools within the town and outlying rural areas.

Pearsons Coachlines Depot Manager Mark Cook says while driving school buses he has seen a lot of close calls - “a lot of which never get reported” - and has witnessed motorists passing stationary school buses on long, straight roads at speeds in excess of 100km/h.

“We were very motivated when the opportunity arose to join with Rural Women New Zealand, with a vision to improve the safety of our children around school buses. The results so far have been extremely positive and now combined with the new 20km/h signs on the buses, I am sure that the current trial will prove to be successful.”

For local resident, Maureen Maginness of Rural Women New Zealand, an incident involving her own children when they were young, has resulted in a lifetime commitment to improving road safety for school children.

She is a strong advocate for getting a reduction in speeds past stationery school buses, saying if the trial enables us to “just save one child from an injury or death, then we would have done a wonderful thing”.

Ashburton Mayor Angus McKay says it is great Ashburton had been chosen for the trial and he welcomed the opportunity to work with the partners to make it a success.

“Nothing is worse than the life of a child being lost, particularly in circumstances that could have been avoided if someone had simply observed the legal speed limit and slowed down.

“I hope the trial is a huge success and as a result the flashing school bus signs are rolled out across the country to support road safety and save the lives of our children.”

The signs will operate on Pearsons buses until at least June 2014. Drivers testing the signs say they have already seen a change in driver behaviour, with a notable decrease in the speed at which motorists pass stationary school buses when the signs are operational.

Motorists will have a couple of weeks grace before the police begin to actively enforce the 20km/h speed limit past stationary school buses, says Sergeant Stephen Burgerhout of the Police’s Mid/South Canterbury Highway Patrol.

“As there has been a comprehensive educational campaign, I will be highly disappointed to see many offences.”

He says children tend to be impulsive and can do the unexpected. “If vehicle speeds are lower when passing stationary school buses, in the event of a child running out from behind a bus and being hit, the greater their chance of survival.

“No matter how good a driver a person is, the more they can do to minimise the factors to avoid a crash, the better it is for all involved.”


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