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Children Set To Become Priority Outside Schools?

Schoolchildren - our most vulnerable road users - are set to benefit from proposed changes to lower speed limits on roads outside schools to a maximum of 30 km/h for urban schools and 60 km/h for rural schools. NZ School Speeds, a road safety organisation representing school children and concerned adults, is delighted by the announcement and thanks the Minister of Transport for his consideration, but asks for consistency of speed limits to protect all children.

Implementing consistent road rules is an easy and effective way to make roads safe for children and families. Our Minister of Transport, Michael Wood, has realised this and is now considering a whole-of-network approach to speed management. “Simplifying and standardising rules to enact a consistent 30 km/h limit outside schools, rather than the ridiculous current limit of up to 100 km/h. These rules are a great way to enforce a safe speed limit around children travelling to and from school,” states Lucinda Rees from NZ School Speeds.

The proposal suggests that in some cases the speed limit should be 40 km/h outside some urban schools. A universal 30 km/h limit at peak times must be considered to ensure drivers always know what is expected of them. The difference of outcomes between these speeds of a vehicle hitting a child is staggering: according to the World Health Organisation, an increase in average speed of 1 km/h typically results in a 3% greater risk of a crash involving injury. At the increased 40 km/h, the likelihood of a child being killed is doubled, despite being ‘only 10 km/h greater.’ As such, raising the speed limit to save drivers a slight amount of travel time is unconscionable when weighed against the safety and wellbeing of our children.

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Furthermore, a 60 km/h speed limit outside rural schools is initially acceptable, but must be reduced to 30 km/h at peak times to ensure safety, provide consistency to regulations, and minimise driver uncertainty. Rural schools often depend on school buses, which currently have a universal passing speed limit of 20 km/h. Why should speed limits around schools not be similarly consistent for all areas? A child at a rural school is just as vulnerable as one at an urban school. The 30 km/h limit must be in place for every child, no matter their area.

Children, as our most vulnerable road users, must be the main consideration within a school zone, not drivers. Children can act impulsively and are easily distracted. Young children are unable to judge speeds of vehicles. If travelling to school via foot or bike is made to be a safe and attractive option for families, children will benefit the from exercise and mental stimulation this offers. Implementing safe speeds around schools gives children this opportunity to improve their wellbeing.

NZ School Speeds is pleased that this potential benefit is considered in the proposal, which states that “RCAs [Road Controlling Authorities] will be encouraged to consider speed management treatments in the broader area around a school (e.g. road narrowing and raised platforms).” The intent of this change is to help improve safety and access for children who may use active modes of transport to get to and from school.

However, the proposed timeframe for these changes is unacceptable. Under the current proposal, ‘RCAs will be required to introduce an initial 40% of changes by 30 June 2024 and use ‘reasonable efforts’ to complete the remaining changes by 31 December 2029. This is much too long a time to wait to make travel safer for our children. NZ School Speeds would like to see the revised speed limits implemented before the first term of 2022.

Ms Rees adds: “If this proposal goes ahead, it will be a giant step for road safety of all vulnerable road users, but only if a consistent 30km/h speed limit is implemented for all schools. Children need to be the main consideration within a school zone.”

NZ School Speeds will be submitting on the proposed rule change and would like to encourage the public to submit by 25th June 2021 at www.nzta.govt.nz/speedrule2021.

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