Tragedies highlight danger for children

By PAULA OLIVER

It was just another Tuesday afternoon for six-year-old bright spark Aaron Jones.

School was out and the Hawkes Bay boy was enjoying a bus ride home when the wheels finally rolled around to his stop.

It was 3.35 pm. Aaron got off and ran around to the front of the bus to cross the street.

To the horror of the children watching out of the windows, he dashed straight into the path of an oncoming truck and was killed.

Less than an hour later, and about 300km away, Wellington six-year-old Hemanshu Patel was enjoying a late-afternoon ride on his tricycle.

Approaching a busy crossing during rush-hour traffic, he got off and waited for the "green man" before walking his tricycle out onto the road.

He was hit and killed by a van turning across the intersection.

The two boys' tragic deaths this week left two families reeling and again put the spotlight on New Zealand's unenviable record for child accidents.

Each year, on average, 12 or 13 child pedestrians die in New Zealand.

Most are injured while going to or travelling from school, but a worrying trend is the increasing number of children being run over by their parents or relatives in driveways. The advent of infill housing, where several homes share one driveway, is blamed for that increase.

Each isolated accident is devastating for parents.

Barely able to communicate in English, the Patel family were this week said to be utterly distraught and racked with guilt over the death of their son.

Detective Sergeant Shane Cotter, of Wellington, said that police were communicating with the Patels through interpreters. The results of an inquiry into the accident that killed Hemanshu will be completed by early next week when police have spoken to the driver again.

The Jones family, who raised a boy who always sat at the front of his class and loved to have daily chats with his principal, yesterday farewelled him at a funeral held at his Mangateretere School.

Police say that evidence at the scene of the accident suggested the truck that hit Aaron had been travelling very slowly.

The two deaths have been described as a wake-up call by child-safety advocates. They claim that not many drivers even know that the speed limit when passing a school bus is just 20 km/h.

The Land Transport Safety Authority says it is now reviewing that speed limit as part of its Road User Rule Consultation Paper.

Among suggestions that include changes in giveway rules, the paper calls for public submissions on whether the limit when passing a school bus should remain at 20 km/h, or be changed.

"Some people are actually advocating that the limit should be going up," LTSA spokesman Andy Knackstedt said yesterday. "If people want to have their say, they should make a submission."

The deadline for submissions is September 21.

The LTSA did not support calls for New Zealand to introduce a United States law that required all traffic to stop until a school bus began to move off again.

"Evidence shows it wouldn't reduce the risk of children being killed, and it would be very difficult to enforce. If everyone obeyed the 20 km/h limit it wouldn't be needed,"said Mr Knackstedt.

The authority has recommended that the speed limit past school buses remain at 20 km/h.

It is also looking at introducing signs and flashing lights to school buses - an initiative already used in the United States.

The square signs, about half a metre wide, carry an internationally recognised symbol for children crossing. Put on the front and back of the bus, the signs are bordered by amber lights that flash when the bus is picking up passengers or dropping them off.

Sue Kendall, the national coordinator for next month's Kidsafe Week, said that reducing the number of child accidents was as much about educating adults as about educating children.

"Children are impulsive; that's part of being a child. They are vulnerable road users. They use the road to cross it.

"Sometimes we put too much emphasis on kids when it should perhaps be on drivers instead."

Ms Kendall said several programmes were under way to reduce accidents.

One is the walking school bus, which sees children picked up to walk to school by a group escorted by two adults (a driver and a conductor).

She said speed bumps were also being looked at around some schools, and there were calls for fences to be erected around shared driveways.

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