By KRISTIN EDGE A 13-YEAR-OLD Far North boy hit by a car seconds after getting off a school bus is in a critical condition in Auckland's Starship Hospital.
The Kaitaia College pupil was struck down by a four-wheel-drive towing a trailer about 4pm on Wednesday on State Highway 1, near Houhora Heads Rd, in a 100km/h zone about halfway between Kaitaia and Cape Reinga.
The accident has sparked calls to make school buses clearly identifiable and fitted with flashing lights to slow motorists to the legally required 20km/h.
The Northland Electricity rescue helicopter airlifted the critically injured boy to Whangarei Hospital and after emergency medical attention he was transferred to Auckland.
Yesterday students who witnessed the crash were offered counselling and were making cards to send to their classmate.
College principal William Tailby said some of the students were very upset.
Students were given safety advice about travelling on school buses but the accident was perhaps a sign more education was needed, he said.
Mr Tailby said the Ministry of Education contracted businesses to carry out the school bus runs.
Emergency department doctor Gary Payinda, a recent arrival to Northland from California, was part of the medical team that helped the boy. He was surprised school buses in New Zealand, unlike the bright yellow buses of his homeland, were not highly visible or equipped with flashing lights and swing-out stop signs.
"Of all the vehicles I think school buses should be conspicuously marked and obvious to everyone. They shouldn't blend into the traffic background," Mr Payinda said. "A lot of interventions are expensive and complicated but painting buses a standard bright colour and fitting them with flashing red lights could be a start.
"t's all about lessening the trauma. If you can get someone to slow down from 100km/h to 30km/h you've gone a long way to protecting children."
The accident has drawn a warning from Northland police road policing boss Inspector Clifford Paxton.
"All motorists must slow down to 20km/h when passing a school bus picking up or dropping off children. There's a danger period shortly before and after when kids are around the bus and can be unpredictable," Mr Paxton said.
A driver passing a school bus at more than 60km/h can be suspended from driving immediately, as well as facing fines.
The police serious crash unit examined the site on Wednesday. The vehicle involved in the collision, thought to be carrying a load of eggs, was to be inspected as part of the investigation.
In November 2002, 7-year-old Zachary Hide died when hit by a car as he crossed Cove Rd, near Waipu, to catch the school bus. Nationally, eight fatalities, 14 serious and 34 minor injuries involving children and school buses took place between 2000 and 2007.
* BUS SAFETY TIPS
• Always reduce speed to 20km/h when passing a stationary school bus on either side of the road.
• Make sure children know the safest route to the bus stop. Ensure they don't have to cross the road on their own.
• Make sure children are visible with bright and/or light-coloured clothing.
• If you are picking kids up from the bus stop, meet them at the stop, on the same side of the road. Never call out from across the road.