Editorial: Slower speeds make sense past schools

Last updated 13:00 27/12/2013

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OPINION: Young children and fast vehicles are a potentially deadly mix.

An increasing number of urban schools have recognised this by using the option of 40kmh variable speed limits on the road running past their gates during drop-off and pick-up times.

The New Zealand Transport Agency says reducing vehicle speeds to 40kmh or less significantly reduces the level of injury if a child is struck.

There are problems applying such limits to roads outside rural schools, but the underlying logic of cutting speeds to reduce the risk of serious injury or death would still seem valid.

Appleby School principal Graham Avery certainly thinks so, saying lowering the open road limit on the Moutere highway past the school gates is a "no brainer".

He makes the point that motorists travelling at 100kmh have no time to react should an errant or impulsive primary school pupil dart out in front of them. The highway is also a thoroughfare for heavy traffic.

But after years of discussions with the Tasman District Council, there is no movement on the limit.

The council has recently painted yellow lines outside the school to prevent parents dropping off or picking up their children on the side of the road, reducing visibility for other motorists.

That is a welcome improvement, but Mr Avery says speed remains his main concern.

For its part, the council says there are a number of practical impediments to reducing the limit, and it doubts the effectiveness of doing so.

Its transportation manager Gary Clark says drivers travel about 70-80kmh past the school because they are slowing down for or taking off from the intersection with State Highway 60.

He says motorists would be frustrated by the changing limits, and it would not be sensible to have an 80kmh zone for such a short stretch of road.

NZTA advice about safe speeds around schools notes that Christchurch research has shown the 40kmh variable zone is only effective when there is sufficient school-related pedestrian activity to remind motorists to slow down. That is presumably a reference to the the highly visible school crossings.

For rural schools faced with higher speeds the agency says it's unlikely motorists will slow to 40kmh in the short length of a school zone. To get compliance, a reduced 80kmh speed limit might be needed, along with engineering initiatives such as lane narrowing, specially marked or textured surfaces, or rural "gateways" involving very large signs. Community involvement and education as well as enforcement campaigns could also be used.

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Mr Avery is unconvinced by the council response, and has voiced his concerns publicly.

Motorist frustration hardly seems to be a reason not to lower speeds near the school, and for all the practical issues, it's hard to see why a combination of techniques could not be effective and potentially save lives. None will guarantee full driver compliance, but if vehicles are already in slower mode approaching or leaving the intersection, would it be that difficult to further reduce speed past the school?

- Nelson

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