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Safer driving . . . Timaru school bus companies and principals are reminding drivers to slow down to 20kmph when passing stopped school buses. PHOTO: GRETA YEOMAN

A South Canterbury road safety co-ordinator is calling for a new rule to help ensure the safety of children using school buses.

While one South Canterbury bus company is planning to trial new signs to remind drivers to slow to 20kmh when driving past stationary school buses, road safety co-ordinator Daniel Naude believes a new rule should also be introduced to help ensure children are safe.

Under the rule children would have to wait in a safe area after getting off a bus until the bus had pulled away, so they could see clearly in both directions before crossing a road.

“Then there’s no blockage of view and they can cross the road when it’s safe, and people can slow down and be aware of that.”

Having to reduce speed from in some cases 100kmh to 20kmh when passing a stationary bus was a rule some motorists struggled with because of a fear of fast traffic behind them.

Atkinson and Dossett owner Chris Gifkins said the speed of other vehicles was a “continuous” problem for bus drivers – particularly on roads around the district with higher speed limits.

Mr Gifkins, who does the state highway run for Timaru secondary schools, said his bus often pulled over to the side of the highway near Seadown and Levels and parents had often commented on the behaviour of some drivers when picking up or dropping off children at the stops.

“It’s been [a problem] for years.”

However, until police could monitor driver behaviour around the buses, it was up to drivers to remember the 20kmh rule, he said.

“It’s an awful one to police.”

Atkinson and Dossett buses already had flashing lights on its buses to remind drivers to slow down and the company was set to trial a 20kmh sign on the back of the school bus in the coming weeks, he said.

Rural Women NZ has also been petitioning the Government to implement mandatory 20kmh signage and flashing lights on school buses across the country.

An NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) spokeswoman said the results of a trial of flashing lights on school buses in Ashburton were being reviewed.

She said a 2010 report had prompted the adjustment of school bus routes and drop-off areas to ensure children got on and off buses on the same side of the road as their destination, where possible.

Craighead Diocesan School principal Lindy Graham told The Courier that while drivers were “pretty good” about slowing down near the school, the school’s proximity to Highfield Mall and the New World supermarket meant there was lot of traffic around.

“Safety around schools is paramount.”

Timaru Girls’ High School principal Sarah Davis said while the school had not had any school bus incidents involving other drivers, it was important for drivers to travel past schools and school buses safely.

“I imagine in some situations, [with] country roads, poor light [and] wet conditions, safety could be an issue – fortunately we haven’t had any incidents here.”

A Ministry of Transport spokesman said while no schoolchildren had been killed crossing the road before getting on or after getting off a school bus since 2009, speeding drivers were still a concern.

A national awareness campaign was being organised by the NZ Transport Agency and Ministry of Education, he said.

Mr Gifkins thanked the transport truck drivers who not only slowed down but also put on their hazard lights to let drivers behind them know there was a bus stopped nearby.

He encouraged drivers to remember to slow down, for the safety of themselves and the children getting on or off buses.

“We all know the faster you’re going . . . the bigger the mess.”