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Treat all children the same, especially outside schools

The Ministry of Transport has announced that school zones in urban areas can be reduced to 30km/h speed limits and the maximum in rural areas will be 60km/h at peak times. Lucinda Rees from NZ School Speeds has been campaigning for 30km/h outside every school, is delighted that the Government is finally listening to concerns, but more is needed as the discrepancy between urban and rural child road safety remains.

Today’s announcement by the Government has in effect retained responsibility of slowing speed limits outside schools to individual councils across the country. So far councils don’t have a good track record on slowing to safe speed limits for the benefit of children and this is unlikely to change. In essence it will now be possible for the 30km/h speed limit to be set outside any school, but only if communities and campaigners push for safer speeds with their local councils, despite every child having the right to go to school - safely.

The likelihood of a child being killed when hit by a vehicle moving at 30km/h is 10%. With every 1km/h increase the probability of death increases by 4 or 5%.1 At 40km/h the likelihood of death doubles, so why not have a 30km/h speed limit outside every school at peak times, rather than saving a few seconds on a journey? Most drivers would welcome consistency of speed limits outside schools.

Rural children do walk and cycle and more would if roads were safer. Travelling as a vulnerable road user in rural areas is dangerous. It does give them exposure to their locality and perhaps prepares them better for coping with driving at a later stage. For some children that is the only way they can get to school. These children often come from disadvantaged homes. Ms Rees knew of one who walked to school on his own from the age of 5. “This child had to cross a 100km/h road to get to school in Swannanoa, North Canterbury. He survived, but no child should have to dice with death the amount of times this little boy did.”

Ms Rees often walked and biked with her children to school in a rural area in North Canterbury. It was scary, but she wanted her children to learn about their local environment and to have some sort of independence. This experience and her daughter doing a speech in primary school about the dangerous speed limits outside her school, prompted Ms Rees to set up the road safety organisation NZ School Speeds. Her children are now grown up and she has been campaigning ever since.

Ms Rees has suggested to the Ministry of Transport that every school has a maximum 30km/h speed limit as recommended by the World Health Organisation at peak times and that the maximum speed limit outside a school was no more than 60km/h outside these times. She applauds the Government for the rural maximum 60km/h, but would like to see this speed limit permanent, so that children can cross the road to school at all times. She had also suggested that to enable children to walk and bike to school the speed limits of 60km/h were extended at least 3km from each school, so children who were unable to take the school bus could safely make their way independently to school.

As Minister Genter’s announcement today states: “Our kids should have the freedom to walk and cycle to school and feel safe doing so”. Crossing a road outside schools where vehicles are travelling at 60km/h is not a safe speed limit for children who are likely to be distracted at the start and finish of school. Ms Rees says: “There is now some hope for safer roads, but pressure is on the councils. We need some respect from drivers towards children in schools zones and that can only be established with consistent maximum speed limits of 30km/h at peak times and no more than 60km/h at other times of the day throughout New Zealand.”

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