Much of Europe embraces 20 or 30 km/h speed limits outside schools, and enforces strict laws if these limits are broken. These limits encourage children to walk and cycle by making these activities safe for our most vulnerable road users. As children head back to school in New Zealand, these protections exist for few. Kiwi policy makers need to make changes now.
Lucinda Rees from NZ School Speeds, a group lobbying for consistent 30 km/h limits outside every school, is uncertain why government and local government have not done their utmost to slow traffic where children are using the road. This danger is most severe in rural areas due to higher speeds of up to 100 km/h. “Many say that rural children are commonly driven to school”, Rees says, “however this is a myth. For years, policy makers have talked about ‘making changes’, but nothing has changed and there is no promise of a law being put in place to protect children. Children are clearly not a priority on Aotearoa’s roads.”
Last April, the Minister of Transport promised “Safer trips for kids to and from school” (https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/safer-trips-kids-and-school). However, consistent speed limits of 30 km/h maximum outside every school are the only way to make trips safer for all children.
This week, Ms Rees’ local Waimakariri council put out this advert:
According to Ms Rees, “This advert demonstrates that councils are doing little to put safe consistent speed limits outside schools. Councils are often the ones who decide what speed limits need to be set, where not set by Waka Kotahi. Both parties are not actioning safe speeds outside schools. This is why the Government needs to establish nationwide laws to put 30 km/h speed limits outside all schools to ensure consistency and safety.
“Currently, there is no consistency with speed limits outside schools, where speeds can reach up to 100 km/h. There is a lot of confusion about drivers must do around schools to keep children safe, and this is why many drivers flout the 20 km/h school bus speed limit. If there was a consistent speed limit of 30 km/h outside everyschool, all drivers would know that they need to slow down outside any place where school children potentially cross.
“30 km/h is the maximum speed limit recommended by the World Health Organisation outside schools. If a child is hit by a vehicle at 30 km/h the likelihood of death is 10%. For each additional km/h this probability of death increases by 4 to 5%.
“In rural areas, like outside Swannanoa Primary School in the Waimakariri District, the speed limit remains at 100 km/h except during peak times when the speed limit is reduced to 60km/h. If a child is hit at 60 km/h the likelihood of death is around 80%, when braking a car will take 36 metres to stop.”
Children are less able to judge the speed travelled by vehicles and are easily distracted, especially outside school where there is so much going on. Is the safety and lives of children not more important than drivers reaching their destination slightly faster?
Making it possible for children and their families to walk or bike to school in all areas is crucial. Apart from the consistent 30 km/h speed limit, all routes within 3 km of the school need to be set at a speed limit of no more than 60 km/h. Furthermore, we need the mandatory vulnerable road user passing gap in place (1 metre for vehicles travelling up to 60 km/h, and 1.5 metres for vehicles faster than 60 km/h), for walking and cycling to be safer overall. These rules need to be in place for roads to be safer for children and if the Government brings in the laws, councils will be bound to apply them. It won’t take much effort to get these laws in place, but will have huge benefits for our children and vulnerable road users.