Evening traffic deadliest for schoolchildren

Last updated 10:22 18/05/2008

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Five children a month are being maimed on Auckland's busy roads.

Children are most at risk during Auckland's afternoon rush hour, with nearly half of all child pedestrian crashes occurring between 3 and 7pm.

A new study, which analysed hospital records collected over six years, shows Maori and Pacific Island children are at greater risk of being injured or killed than European children, prompting calls for more prevention strategies targeted at ethnic communities.

In all, 364 children were hit in pedestrian accidents in the Auckland region between 2000 and 2006; 25 of them died. The figures do not include children who were injured or killed in their own driveways.

Study author Clinton Newberry, a fifth-year medical student at Auckland University, said it was clear from his findings that rush-hour drivers needed to reduce their speed around schools and increase their vigilance.

"The first thing that happens when you hit a kid is that you break their legs; the second thing you do is crack their skull. Getting home 30 seconds faster is just ridiculous compared to the increased risk of hitting a child," he said.

Initiatives such as the Walking School Bus were helping to lower the injury toll, but these tended to be concentrated in wealthier areas where parents had the time to walk their child to, and home from, school. In poorer areas, where both parents often worked, it was harder to implement such schemes.

Newberry said the difficulties parents had in balancing work commitments and childcare could also explain why children were more at risk of being injured during the afternoon rush hour than during the morning rush hour.

While it was often practical for parents to drop their children off at school on their way to work, many could not get away in time to pick them up from school which meant they often had to make their own way home.

Safekids New Zealand director Ann Weaver said the study's findings reinforced the need for motorists to reduce their speed and be extremely vigilant during the rush hour.

She said local authorities should be urged to continue installing school traffic safety zones - which force motorists to slow down to 40km/h outside schools - as they made it safer for children walking to, and home from, school.

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- Sunday Star Times

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