Open Letter to John Key on Children’s Road Safety

Opinion – Lucinda Rees

Road safety of school children has not been tackled by your party in the last four years of office, despite you telling me in person that “something needs to be done about it”. Could this be a matter of empty promises?Open Letter to John Key on Children’s Road Safety

9th November 2011

Dear Mr. Key,

Road safety of school children has not been tackled by your party in the last four years of office, despite you telling me in person that “something needs to be done about it”. Could this be a matter of empty promises? Your election publicity even mentions that you will be “making our roads safer, so we can keep the road toll down.” I really wonder whom you will be making the roads safer for? Then there is your advertising campaign on TV, where I couldn’t help notice a school zone sign. These school zones are obviously meant to make us all feel warm and cosy and protected. Well for most rural children the school zone is not that “protected” area. Maybe you should rename it a race zone? 100km/h or even 70km/h on roads outside a school is not a protected school zone. A National School Zone Speed Limit of 40km/h during busy times would change that.

Just to apprehend a reply email from your office, telling me that this is the business of the Minister of Transport, this particular email is actually referring to your leadership. Considering that there is a chance that you will lead the country again, I feel that you need to prioritize road safety for our school children. You were obviously depending on your Minister of Transport, Steven Joyce, who didn’t even have the decency to answer my email from August of this year. In the Honourable Member’s defence, he seems to have had rather a lot on his plate, not that there is any excuse for ignoring the plight of our school children who regularly have to use his roads to make their way to and from school. What are you going to do for them if you are re-elected? How about protecting the most vulnerable citizen on our road rather than ignoring them?!

At the moment the NZTA seem to govern the Ministry of Transport. Assuming that you do get re-elected to lead for another four years, then you will need to put an end to this. My suggestion is to employ (and I reluctantly bring sexism into this) a ‘no nonsense’ woman in the position of Minister of Transport. This ‘no nonsense’ woman would definitely be able to sort out this mess. I am sure you have a candidate somewhere in your cabinet to fulfil this particular role.

This ‘no nonsense’ woman will then need to look at school child travel. At the moment different departments look after different aspects of school child travel: The Education Minister is in charge of the school buses, (which incidentally urgently need to have illuminated lights fitted!) and the Minister of Transport is in charge of all the other transport issues. Then there is the NZTA again, whose job seems to be to put as many obstacles as is possible in the way of any improving school child road safety. Somewhere down at the bottom of the heap are our local councils. With the councils, a school child’s road safety is dependant on who is in charge and whether or not they are keen to take on the problematic NZTA. The result is that some councils improve road safety for school children, whilst others just seem to spend their time playing tiddly winks (which is probably a lot easier than tackling the members of the NZTA). Meanwhile there are children out there risking their lives on a daily basis, whilst making their journey to and from school and no one seems to be solely responsible for them. As a parent I would like to see something done about this, so what are you going to do? Children are our future, yet they seem to have fallen between the cracks.

One single department should be put in place to look after the travel needs of our school children. School buses and school zones should be the sole responsibility of this one department. Why not come up with a catchy title for the new department/organisation that takes over the responsibility here? How about the department of “Safe School Travel” or even “Vulnerable School Child Travel?

“Who will pay for all the changes?” I hear you ask. Well the tax payer will obviously be responsible for some of the cost, but fines gathered from outside school buses and from within school zones could go towards many of the road safety issues. Following a discussion on speed past schools and the illuminated lights on buses at a meeting organised by Rural Women in Wellington last week, involving many of those who are keen to see safer travel for our school children, we all seemed to agree that the fines gathered around school buses and outside schools should be used to go back into road safety. Incidentally at this meeting TERNZ, who have researched speeds outside schools and the illuminated lights on school buses, gave some very valid views, that your future ‘no nonsense’ Minister of Transport might like to address.

As the possible re-elected leader of this country, you should be responsible for the safe travel needs of our children. We are their parents, but we lack the power that you have to do anything about our road safety concerns. A mother of boy who was killed after getting off his school bus pointed out at the meeting in Wellington last week: “Unless you have lost a child yourself, you will never understand what the pain is like.” I am sure that as a parent yourself, you too don’t want others to have to experience this. Your thoughts on this would be much appreciated.

Yours sincerely,

Lucinda Rees
Mother of school children

ENDS

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