Bid to cut speeds by school buses

ABUSED: Road rules for overtaking stationary school buses are either unknown or ignored.
ABUSED: Road rules for overtaking stationary school buses are either unknown or ignored.

Speeding past school buses on the side of the road is among the most abused of road rules and a rural women's group wants to remind motorists of the 20 kilometres an hour limit with illuminated signs after some success during an Ashburton trial.

Rural Women NZ took part in a Either Way it's 20K trial last year with government traffic agencies to alert drivers they were about to pass a school bus and of the need to slow down.

Bright 20K signs were installed on the front and rear of the buses that lit up when the doors opened, and included flashing lights to attract drivers' attention.

The womens' group wants the signs to be approved for wider use.

President Wendy McGowan said the 20kmh speed limit in both directions must be one of the most flouted rules in the road code, often because drivers were unaware of the law or did not notice they were passing a school bus until it was too late.

She said drivers did not even slow down on open roads in many rural areas, yet the rule was in the road code. "Children are unpredictable and if mum is parked on the other side of the road they are so full of what they want to say they just run and do it on an urban or rural road. In urban areas your maximum speed is 60kmh to 70kmh past a schoolbus and most times it's 50kmh, but in a lot of rural areas it's 100kmh. So if you hit a child at that speed it's going to be fatal."

McGowan said one way to make motorists slow down was to make them more aware of the rule and another way was to introduce flashing lights on buses on the side of the road.

She said rural communities had started fundraising for signs on local school buses and were waiting for them to be approved.

"In the long term we'd like to see 20K signs installed on all school buses throughout the country."

The Ashburton trial began with an awareness campaign and was followed by police enforcement.

Gowan said the trial showed there was more progress to be made with Ashburton drivers passing school buses recorded at twice the legal speed limit on average, but it was a step in the right direction.

Before the campaign began, the average speed of drivers passing a stationary school bus was 80kmh. Afterwards drivers were slowing to an average of 40kmh and reducing their speed on main roads and open rural highways.

Children are vulnerable in rural areas where they were dropped off at the side of the road, often with no pavement. Driver inattention or a child's inability to translate speed and distance has caused tragic fatalities and serious injuries each year as children dash in front of cars and trucks.

At 20kmh drivers have longer to react and collisions can be less fatal or serious.

Transport research group TERNZ will make its recommendations in favour of the sign proposal to the New Zealand Transport Agency in June.


From 1987 to 2012, 23 children were killed when crossing the road to or from school buses. A further 47 have been seriously injured and 92 have received minor injuries.

In 2011, 36 children were injured when a logging truck in the Bay of Plenty rear-ended a school bus that had stopped to let children off.

About 85 per cent of the accidents happened in the afternoon when children were being returned to their homes. Of the crashes 62 per cent were in 50kmh zones, yet 85 per cent of fatalities were on high speed roads and many of them in rural areas.

The Press