Trial aims for safer speeds around rural schools


The NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) will begin a trial of variable speed limits outside rural schools next month as part of the agency's ongoing effort to reduce serious crashes and improve safety on rural New Zealand roads.

NZTA Chief Advisor, Safety Directions Lisa Rossiter says the speed of traffic around schools is a concern to parents, teachers and others in many rural communities, as school drop-offs and pick-ups often take place in high speed traffic environments.

“Our aim is to create a road system in which crashes are survivable. To do that we really need to reduce speeds around our vulnerable youngsters and we also need to accept that people, including children, will make mistakes on the road. It’s up to all of us to share responsibility for making the system as safe as we can. Driving at lower speeds around schools when kids are coming and going is part of that.”

Ms Rossiter said NZTA investigations have show that for many rural New Zealand schools the main traffic safety issue is the risk of crashes with vehicles turning into or out of the school grounds to drop-off or pick-up children.

She said the trial will examine whether safer speeds can be achieved and a safer environment created during these times using a range of permanent and variable school speed limits. 

“By reducing speed limits at specified times before and after school, we’re aiming to reduce the risk of serious crashes involving turning traffic,” says Ms Rossiter.  “It should also provide a safer road environment for pedestrians or cyclists using the road outside the schools.”

Ms Rossiter said a similar approach had been employed successfully around many urban schools in New Zealand and the use of variable speed limits was increasingly common overseas.

The NZTA’s efforts to manage speeds outside schools is part of the agency’s commitment to the Government’s road safety strategy Safer Journeys.  Safer Journeys adopts the world leading  ‘Safe System’ approach to reducing unnecessary deaths and serious injuries from road crashes. The safe system approach aims to create an environment that is forgiving of human error so that people do not needlessly die or get seriously injured as the result of a simple mistake, such as misjudging the speed of an oncoming vechile. It focuses on safer speeds, safer roads and roadsides, safer road use, and safer vehicles. 

Ms Rossiter said five schools would initially take part in the trial, with the first step being the introduction of a permanent 80km/h speed limit at four of the trial schools.   

This will be followed up with the installation of ‘variable message’ electronic signs at each of the five schools (similar to those currently being used outside schools in urban areas). The signs, funded for the trial by the Road Safety Trust, will display the variable speed limit for each school during their key pick up and drop off times.

The five schools taking part in the trial (and each of their variable speed limits) are detailed below:

  • Whenuakite School (SH25) near Whitianga will have a new permanent 80km/h speed limit with a variable 40km/h school zone speed limit.
  • Te Uku School (SH 23) near Raglan will have a new permanent 80km/h speed limit with a variable 60km/h speed limit.
  • Paki Paki School (SH50A) near Hastings will have a new permanent 80km/h speed limit with a variable 60km/h speed limit.
  • Opiki School (SH56) near Palmerston North will have a new permanent 80km/h with a variable 60km/h speed limit.
  • Kai Iwi School (SH3) near Wanganui will have a new variable 70km/h speed limit (and no change to the permanent speed limit of 100 km/h).

The NZTA is aiming to have the variable speed limit signs in place and operating at all schools in the trial by the end of June. This is an excellent example of working together to make our roads safer, says Ms Rossiter. This type of project requires commitment from a wide range of groups, including the schools and communities involved, the Road Safety Trust, the NZ Police and organisations involved in planning, implementing and monitoring the changes. And most of all it requires support from the NZ public to slow down around schools.

To assess the effectiveness of the variable speed limits, monitoring of traffic speeds and driver behaviour will be undertaken during the trial.  The initial trial is expected to continue for up to two years.  During that time, the NZTA will continue investigations into identifying other schools to be added to the trial.