Fresh calls for safety improvements to school buses have come from the parents of a girl killed in the rural Far North as mourners gathered at a tangi for the latest accident victim.
Hinerangi Iese was farewelled at Waiora Marae, in Ngataki, yesterday morning, followed by interment at Houhora Cemetery.
The 12-year-old, described by Pukenui School principal Carolyn Smith as ''the brightest, bubbliest girl who sang like an angel'', was hit by a truck and trailer after getting off a school bus on State Highway 1 north of Houhora on Friday.
She was airlifted to Auckland's Starship Hospital where she later died.
Hinerangi was struck after being dropped off by a bus driver who had taken her to school since she started. It appears she may have been crossing the road to reach a letterbox.
The tragedy has reignited calls for school bus safety changes by Lisa and Malcolm Collins, a former Kaitaia police sergeant now based in Whanganui. Their son, Kaitaia College student Grant Collins, 13, died on the same stretch of highway in 2008.
The inquest into Grant's death saw now-deputy chief coroner Brandt Shortland's recommendation include fluorescent signs and flashing lights on the front and back of buses to warn motorists when children were getting off. Shortland was the second coroner to make safety recommendations to school buses.
Grant's death after 25 days in hospital prompted his parents to campaign for safety changes.
Lisa Collins said Houhora was ''an incredible community'' which would be rocked by the latest tragedy, as it was when Grant died.
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''The loss of a child is a heaviness that doesn't go away. I don't believe there will ever be a day I don't think about him.''
After losing her son, Lisa Collins travelled the country telling his story at rural schools and road safety expos.
She believed it had helped change driver behaviour because, until this latest accident, she didn't know of any deaths from children getting off school buses in the past 10 years. Previously the toll had averaged one a year.
She said she was frustrated bus warning lights still hadn't been implemented and hoped the debate would now be reignited.
Collins said bringing in measures to stop traffic completely when school buses were stationary could be ''a hard push'' but flashing lights would make ''a real difference'' by alerting drivers to the current 20km/h limit for vehicles passing in either direction. The cost would be far less than treating one badly injured child in hospital.
Garth Petricevich, who manages Petricevich Buses, said the bus driver had been doing the run for about 20 years and had known the girl since she started school.
She was off work yesterday for the tangi but wanted to return as soon as possible. She had been offered counselling.
After Grant's death Petricevich Buses installed bold signs on its buses warning motorists of the 20km/h speed limit and trialled the use of flashing lights.
The coroner also recommended barrier arms be attached to school buses, as used in North America, that could be lowered to force traffic to stop in both directions.
However, no action has been taken at a government level to require warning lights or allow the use of barrier arms.
Garth Petricevich said flashing lights would be effective but only if combined with better enforcement because the 20km/h limit was often ignored.
A law change would be required, however, if traffic-stopping barrier arms were fitted to buses.
''They're used in the US where you can't pass a stationary school bus, and I'm sure they have a lot more traffic than we do.''
Petricevich said the Houhora bus always dropped children off on the side of the road they lived on, doing the west side of the SH1 as it headed north to Trig Rd, then the east side as it returned to the depot.
The girl had got off the bus on the correct side of the road but then tried to cross, possibly to check the letterbox on the other side.
An investigation by the police Serious Crash Unit is continuing but it is thought a southbound truck had slowed down as Hinerangi went to cross the road behind the bus. That truck may have blocked her view of a truck and trailer approaching from the other direction.
The truck and trailer was seized as part of the investigation. It was released on Monday.
A manager at Ritchies Transport, which provides bus services across the country, said school buses in the Ruakaka area carried flashing warning lights with safety systems organised and paid for by a parents' network.
The coroner's call
In 2009, then Northland Coroner Brandt Shortland made a series of recommendations relating to the 2008 death of Grant Collins, 13, at Houhora. They included:
■ Internal and external signs to remind children and motorists of the dangers. External signs should be ''extremely fluorescent'' and include flashing lights at front and rear. The lights could be turned on by the driver when children were getting off.
■ A new law allowing hydraulic arms to stop traffic in both directions while students are getting off.
■ A fee built into vehicle registration costs to raise money for school bus safety measures.
■ Education programmes for students and parents at the start of every school year.
■ A senior student to act as a monitor on the bus to ensure children disembark and cross roads safely.
Shortland's recommendations built on those by Coroner Gordon Matenga after the death of a five-year-old boy in the Waikato in 2006. They included:
■ School buses to be made more identifiable.
■ Flashing lights on every school bus.
■ A law change requiring vehicles to stop when the flashing lights are operating.
■ A public campaign to educate all bus and road users.