Slower speed limit trial a success

23:00, Jan 25 2013
Opiki children
Opiki School children with one of two new digital solar powered 60 km signs erected on State Highway 56 outside the school. From left; Regan O'Connor (5), William Campbell (5), Isobelle O'Connor (11), Sophia Campbell (5), Molly O'Connor (9), Liam O'Connor (7), Kaitlin Hopcroft (10) and Max Hopcroft (7).

A rural school situated on a notorious stretch of road near Palmerston North is reaping the safety rewards of its new slower speed limits.

Opiki School, located on State Highway 56 in what was formerly a 100kmh open road zone, was one of the first schools in the country to trial special variable speed limits for rural schools.

The school is now a permanent 80kmh zone, and since last year, variable speed signs with limits that change to 60kmh for the half hour periods either side of the school day when children are being picked up or dropped off have been trialled at the school.

Principal Bede Gilmore said the variable speed signs had been great.

"It's all positive, good news from our perspective, this has been going on for a long, long time. There have been so many accidents on that road... there was always someone in a ditch or through a fence."

Associate Transport Minister Simon Bridges announced this week that the number of schools using the signs would increase from seven to 23 by the end of this year.


Parents and neighbours have in the past begged for speed limits around Opiki School, and the area's residents threatened to put bales of hay on the roadside to protect their properties.

The stretch of road at Opiki has been the site of two fatalities and a near miss in the past three years. In February 2011, a woman died in a crash outside Opiki School.

In June 2010, a car crashed through an Opiki property's fence, clipping a house and narrowly missing a 2-week-old baby, and in November 2010, a pregnant woman was killed in a two-car crash at the accident blackspot.

Since the 80kmh sign was installed most drivers had slowed down. However, the change had not been without its critics, Mr Gilmore said.

The school had fielded a number of calls from truck drivers unimpressed at the lowered speed limit, who had tried to tell him he had "no right" and that it was "against the law," not realising it was a government initiative.

"We have had a few people ring and have a moan, a few truckies who have said it's really frustrating, that it shouldn't be allowed."

Palmerston North rural area commander Inspector Mark Harrison said any speed deterrent around schools was necessary to protect children.

"I think that is, pretty frankly, a ridiculous argument because we are talking about the safety of kids."

Police would be running a nationwide road safety campaign in schools when term one began.

During the back to school period police would also be enforcing a 5kmh tolerance margin on the 40kmh speed limit when passing urban schools, and the 20kmh limit when passing school buses, Mr Harrison said.

Rural Women New Zealand national president Liz Evans said the changes had come after years of campaigning.

"Our rural children are often placed in very vulnerable situations getting to and from school, and we welcome both these initiatives to raise driver awareness and slow down traffic."

Manawatu Standard