As most children prepare to go back to school next week, Associate Transport Minister Simon Bridges has today announced a significant increase in variable speed limit signs. This is part of a wider rural school safety programme launched today.
"Road safety around rural schools is a major concern in many rural communities, where parents dropping off and picking up their children must also deal with high-speed through traffic," says Mr Bridges.
The first step in the rural school safety programme will be an increase in the number of schools trialling variable speed limit signs designed to reduce speeds during school drop-off and pick-up periods, from the current seven to 23 sites by the end of 2013.
Variable speed limits trials at rural schools began in early 2012 as part of the Government's Safer Journeys action plan.
"The NZTA's evaluation of the trial has shown that the variable speed limits have been effective in reducing vehicle speeds both before and after school and in improving driver behaviour around schools."
In addition to the increase of schools conducting a variable speed limit trial next year, two other initiatives will be undertaken as part of the rural school safety programme.
Working in partnership with the Ministry of Education, local councils and the Police, the NZTA will also assess the degree of road safety risk and prioritise all other rural and peri-urban schools and identify actions needed to improve safety at the highest risk schools.
"A High Risk Rural Schools Guide will also be developed to be used by communities, schools and road controlling authorities to assess risk and identify opportunities for improving road safety at rural schools."
The plan is to produce a two-part High Risk Schools Guide, one for rural schools and then one for urban schools.
"Safer Journeys - New Zealand's road safety strategy to 2020 - envisions a safe road system increasingly free of death and serious injury. Safe speed is an important part of this system. Through the rural school safety programme we are helping to ensure some of our most vulnerable are better protected on our roads."
The NZ Automobile Association is welcoming government plans to improve road safety around rural schools.
"These proposals are pragmatic, evidence-based solutions that target actual risks, and will improve rural road safety for children and other road users, while also encouraging motorists to travel at safe speeds when children are present," says AA Principal Advisor Mark Stockdale.
"Making the roads safer around our schools is about more than just speed limits. Independent research shows the best thing that can be done to reduce accidents around schools is to eliminate the need for children to cross the road. That includes things like creating bus bays that are off the road, moving the school gate off the main road, and providing enough car parking for parents on the same side of the road as the school.
"That will reduce the risk of children crossing the road into the path of an oncoming car, regardless of how fast or slow it is travelling," Mr Stockdale added.
Variable speed limit signs can be set to display a lower speed limit at certain times, like the start or end of the school day or during school events, but display the standard speed limit the rest of the time.
"The AA has campaigned for a long time to have variable school speed signs installed at all schools, funded from the more than $64m in fines that have been issued to motorists since 2006 by Police enforcing speeds in school zones. We are pleased more of these will now be introduced at rural schools to help motorists slow down.
"Just as important is developing a guide to help rural communities, school boards and councils identify and implement appropriate solutions to improve school safety. There is more that local communities can do to improve rural road safety, but they need help identifying practical, effective solutions, and the guide will help do this," Mr Stockdale said.