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Submission to Transport and Industrial Relations Committee

Submission to Transport and Industrial Relations Committee

There are huge discrepancies in speed limits outside schools here in New Zealand. They range from 20km/h to 100km/h, dependent their situation. 20km/h is known to be very safe, when children are on the road, but 100km/h?! Children are known to behave unpredictably and take quite unreasonable risks.

Right through from toddlers to teenagers they are all known to do things that that we as adults find difficult to comprehend and that is why they are called children and not just mini adults. These same children use the roads and are regularly compromised by behaviour that for them is just part of growing up. In most countries there is a speed limit outside schools that protects children and this appears to protect them on all roads, as the school speed limit gives drivers a guideline of a safe speed around children. Closer to home Australia’s NSW State Government has brought in 40km/h speed zones outside every school in the state regardless of the underlying speed limit of the surrounding area. Here in New Zealand there are many schools in rural areas situated on open roads, with a 100km/h speed limit and others at 70km/h - a recipe for disaster. Therefore, I and the 2,554 others have requested that the House of Representatives pass a law that reduces speeds outside schools and preschools to 40km/h and that allows for road controlling authorities to set a National School Zone Speed Limit.

Studies have shown that if a young child is hit at a speed of 40km/h they have only an 80% chance of survival, so any school with a road speed limit above 40km/h is in effect reducing every child’s chance of survival even more. Increasingly more countries are now looking at reducing their speed limits outside schools to 20 or 30km/h, a speed limit recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO) and has been adopted in many European countries. Let’s take Sweden for example as the road toll is far lower there than here, but more importantly so are their child deaths. To quote UNICEF’S A League Table of Child Deaths by Injury: “And it clearly shows that the spectrum of child injury deaths is dominated by road traffic accidents – a finding that also holds true for every individual OECD nation.” Sweden is way ahead of our country in child deaths and they rigorously support speed limits outside schools and play areas. Their children aren’t locked up; they are taught about the dangers on the road and are encouraged to use roads regularly as there they are a relatively safe mode of transport. What is more Sweden is aiming at a zero road toll. In a further study conducted by UNICEF, child injuries in Sweden were only 33% of all deaths from 1991 to 1995, whereas here in New Zealand they were 47%. And in the same document annual deaths among children aged 1 to 14 caused by transport accidents during 1991-95, expressed per 100,000 children in the age group, shows Sweden leading the way with only 2.5% and New Zealand one of the lowest in OECD Nations at 6.9%, lower even than Mexico. Further research indicates that “while most vulnerable (unprotected) road users survive if hit by a car travelling 30km/h, the majority are killed if hit by a car travelling at 50km/h. In the majority of serious and fatal crashes, injuries are caused because loads and accelerations – exceeding those that the body can tolerate – are applied by some part of the car. The human tolerance to injury by a car will be exceeded if the vehicle is travelling at more than 30km/h.”

If a driver has to brake suddenly at 20km/h depending on vehicle size, age and road conditions, they will travel approximately 5 metres reaction time and an actual breaking distance of approximately 3 metres, travelling 8 metres before coming to a halt. Likewise at 30km/h they will travel close to 13 metres, 8 of which are reaction distance and at 40km/h they will travel approximately 20 metres, with an 11 metre reaction distance. Now at 70km/h and here it is worth bearing in mind that there are lots of schools with these speed limits, they will travel approximately 48 metres, travelling 19 metres before reacting. And even worse, when driving at 100km/h a driver has a reaction distance of 28 metres. So if a child were to run out onto the road up to 28 metres away, the driver would still be travelling at 100km/h when they hit the child and would only come to a halt approximately 88 metres later! There are many schools here in New Zealand with the 100km/h speed limit. These “speed limits” in no way protect children. Even with more sophisticated cars on the roads, high speeds near schools are likely to cause accidents, as the human mind still takes the same amount of time to react. For drivers to slow down in school zones will only take seconds off their journey time.

The AA supports tougher speed restrictions outside schools and have suggested that - “To improve child safety, the AA would like to see 40 km/h speed zones established at key drop off and pick up times outside schools.” Apart from the trauma and anguish caused if a child is hit by a car, the social cost can be above $4 million. To transfer these costs short term to the setting up of a National School Zone Speed Limit would eventually save this country millions. The AA recommends that the money gained from fines outside school zones and go back into road safety locally and I fully support that.

Most parents are trying to encourage their children to take more exercise, but especially in rural areas you will see very few cycling or walking to school. Many children are driven to school by their parents, as the roads are too dangerous for them to tackle on their own. These children will eventually reach the age of being able to drive a car and they will have had no experience of dealing with traffic. Without any previous experience on the road when these youngsters get their license they are ultimately being handed a lethal weapon that they won’t know how to use responsibly. All children, whether they travel on foot or by bike need a safe route to school.

In rural areas school buses are a heavily used facility and there is the 20km/h rule when the school buses are loading or unloading children. When these buses are parked outside schools at the start and finish of school, drivers should slow to 20km/h. At the moment though, in rural areas they are often travelling well in excess of that speed within the school zone, making it impossible for the driver to safely slow to the speed limit outside a stationary school bus. Often these drivers don’t even seem to notice the school bus. A school speed limit rigorously enforced by speed cameras and severe penalties will put a stop to this. I recently read that remotely controlled cameras might soon be fitted on traffic lights nationwide, so this same technology could be introduced in rural areas.

I have appealed on many occasions to the Minister of Transport, Steven Joyce to have the school speed limit law of 40km/h or less introduced. He replied that a speed limit can be introduced by the local road controlling authorities and although only in urban areas, a flashing “children” sign would suffice for their rural cousins. He added that a speed limit that is unrealistically low will not reduce speeds. A 40km/h speed limit is not unrealistic outside a school full of children and with a gradual reduction in speed this is feasible! What is more flashing lights don’t appear to slow traffic to a safe speed. I live near Swannanoa School in the rural area of North Canterbury where some of these flashing lights have been installed on a 100km/h road and find that many drivers slow down outside this rural school, when the flashing lights are operation. They are however often not slow enough or are over taken by “those drivers who know their rights” (as mere flashing lights with pictures of children holding hands doesn’t mean that you have to slow to a particular speed), which makes the situation very dangerous indeed. Just remember if a child were to run out onto the road up to 28 metres away, the driver would still be travelling at 100km/h when they hit the child! You have those on the road who want to slow down for children and then there are those who have obviously given this no thought what so ever and are probably not even aware of the danger they pose. This in itself is an accident waiting to happen. To give school children a safe area within school zones, a law needs to be introduced to change this and severe penalties are needed, with rules rigorously enforced.

A gradual reduction of speed limit to slow traffic is currently being tested in many areas including Selwyn District Council which is trialling advisory signs outside some of their schools, including rural ones on open roads. These encourage drivers to slow to 40km/h when children are present. I have been told that these large green advisory signs of will be backed up by the Police and with speed measuring devices, as well as extra road markings. If drivers get caught speeding, when children are present they will be charged with careless driving. What is most significant is that the onus is on the driver to drive responsibly at a speed indicated, when children are present and at other times they can travel at the usual speed limit. Similar signage to this in school zones has proved very successful in the USA and is perhaps in the form that needs to be adopted nationally.

To recap the above I have summarised the main facts below:

Children behave unpredictably
A speed limit above 40km/h is a huge risk to children
Australia’s NSW State Government has brought in 40km/h speed zones outside every school in the state regardless of the underlying speed limit of the surrounding area
Sweden is leading the way in road safety, so we need to follow their example
World Health Organisation recommend 20 – 30km/h outside schools and play areas as do many other road safety organisations
At 30km/h a driver will take approximately 13 metres to stop in an emergency, but at 100km/h the driver will travel almost 7 times further before stopping
The time it takes for a driver to react in an emergency is increased with higher speeds
A School Speed Limit will only loose seconds of precious journey time
AA would like to see 40 km/h speed zones established
A National School Speed Limit will ultimately save this country money and heart break
Children need to have experience on the road to become safe drivers
Children need a safe route to school
There is already a speed limit of 20km/h for school buses unloading or loading
All schools and preschools need a National School Speed Limit of 40km/h or less, that is stringently enforced

Children and speed don’t mix, which is why I and the 2,564 others are asking for a reduction in speed to 40km/h outside schools and preschools. Any speed higher than this is seriously endangering every child in this country and through proactive education drivers will eventually accept that they have to slow in school zones. We need to change the way New Zealanders drive and this should start with school age children. And to take a line from a WHO document: “The cost of doing nothing is unacceptable.”


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