The Transport Ministry has no plans to make flashing speed limit signs mandatory on school buses, despite calls from a coroner and the parents of a Northland boy killed after getting off a bus more than 10 years ago.
School bus safety has been back under the spotlight since 12-year-old Hinerangi Iese died early last month on State Highway 1 north of Pukenui.
After 13-year-old Kaitaia College student Grant Collins died on the same stretch of highway in 2008, Coroner Brandt Shortland recommended flashing lights on the front and back of buses to warn motorists when children were getting off.
His call for warning lights was echoed by Grant's parents, Lisa and Malcolm Collins.
The Ministry of Transport, however, told the Advocate that trials of flashing speed limit signs on buses yielded mixed results, with some vehicles slowing down to the required 20km/h but other motorists then overtaking them, increasing the danger to children.
The ministry's acting safety manager, Helen Presland, said the NZ Transport Agency carried out a trial of 20km/h electronic speed limit signs on school buses in Ashburton in 2013-14 and 2016.
"The trial recorded some success in reducing average speeds past stationary school buses by increasing awareness of the 20km/h speed limit.
"However, when used in isolation — without an awareness campaign or police enforcement — the trial recorded high levels of speed variability from passing motorists, which has been linked to decreased safety outcomes.
"Of particular concern, the trial recorded motorists overtaking other vehicles that had slowed down for the school bus."
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Based on those results, the ministry believed flashing speed limit signs would not be effective unless supported by a public awareness campaign and nationwide enforcement.
The law had been changed so warning lights could be fitted to school buses but they remained an option, not a requirement.
Instead, over the past decade NZTA, the Ministry of Education and school bus operators had been working to minimise the need for children to cross the road by reorganising school bus routes so children could be dropped off on the side of the road where they lived, wherever possible.
"This focus, together with driver, parent and passenger safety awareness campaigns has seen a significant improvement in the safety record around school buses," she said.
Until last month's Far North fatality there had been no deaths of children crossing the road to or from a school bus since 2009.
Presland said about 100,000 children travelled to school daily on Ministry of Education-funded buses.
Travelling by bus was much safer than travelling to school by car, but concerns remained about road users speeding past stationary school buses.
Coroner Shortland also called for barrier arms to be fitted to school buses, as used in the US, to stop traffic in both directions when children are getting on and off. That would require a law change and has not been trialled in New Zealand.
It is believed Hinerangi got off the school bus outside her home but crossed the road to check a letterbox. The driver of a southbound slowed to the correct speed as she crossed the highway behind the bus, but her view of another truck heading north may have been obscured.
After the 2008 tragedy, Petricevich Buses owner Tom Petricevich put bold signs on the back of his buses reminding motorists of the 20km/h limit when passing a stationary school bus in either direction.
School buses in the Ruakākā area have been fitted with flashing warning lights paid for by a parents' network.