OPINION: road safety key issue as school year starts

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Just like that, the holidays are over and 2018 is under way.

As a heatwave blanketed the country I returned to Parliament for the first day of the sitting year. After a refreshing break I’m excited to get back into it, and look forward to holding this Government to account.

School children throughout South Canterbury and across the country were also returning to the classroom this week. As the new educational year begins I just want to encourage drivers to take extra care and to follow the 20kmh rule when passing a school bus.

Living in a rural part of New Zealand, hundreds of children across my electorate travel to school by bus, so I am particularly aware of the risks. Police and road safety campaigners admit that there’s a general lack of driver awareness of the 20kmh rule, and with the new school year beginning, I believe there’s no better time to highlight the issue and remind drivers to look out for pupils on the roads.

Road safety is a key issue in South Canterbury right now with yet another fatal crash on State Highway 1 in Pareora earlier this month, while the Winchester-Geraldine/Coach Rd intersection has been named in a NZ Transport Agency list of Canterbury’s most dangerous intersections.

The community has very real concerns about these stretches of road, and two online petitions are now calling for road safety improvements in Pareora.

Geraldine residents are also anxious and rightly concerned about the eastern approach intersection, where there have been a number of crashes and near misses in as many months.

With an increase in tourist and agricultural traffic in the region the local feeling is that the roads simply aren’t engineered to cope with this increased use and I believe it’s high time for the Government to take note and act on these dangerous stretches of road.

And if this heatwave and increasing dry conditions wasn’t enough for farmers to cope with, there have now been further detections of cattle disease Mycoplasma bovis in the region. Two more farms have been found with the disease – one in the Waimate district, the other in Gore – bringing the total number of infected properties to 20.

Eleven of these cases are within my electorate and I am doing my utmost to ensure these farmers receive the help and support they require.

This is a sensitive time for all farmers involved and I hate that the new Primary Industries Minister is choosing to use it to take a swipe at the former National Government and their own ministries’ handling of the outbreak.

I was there at the coal face last year, with those families, when the first cases were discovered in Glenavy. I watched as their animals suffered, as their incomes disappeared, and their reputation was damaged.

This insidious disease is not something that should be trivialised or played politics with. What’s needed is positive support, communication and co-operation for the rural communities involved.

Jacqui Dean is the MP for Waitaki