'Our streets aren't safe enough': Reduced speed limits around schools to be made mandatory

Drivers will soon be forced to drive slower around schools in a bid to get more kids to walk and cycle to school instead of having parents drop them off in a car. 

Associate Transport Minister Julie Anne Genter announced there will be new mandatory maximum speed limits of 40km/h around urban schools and 60km/h around rural schools - but the changes could take up to a decade. 

"Safer speeds around schools is proven to make streets safer, more attractive and more accessible for children to walk and cycle," Genter, a Green MP, told reporters outside Owairaka District School in Auckland. 

"Many parents would like their kids to get to school independently, but are understandably concerned about fast moving traffic near their school."

Genter said around 20 percent of schools have already opted to erect lower speed limit signs around crossing areas, but the Government's new rules will make it mandatory around all schools. 

Genter said it could be different for some schools. On busy roads the changes are likely to be just during the school hours of drop-off and pick-up, while schools situated on residential streets are likely to see more permanent changes.

"The school we're at today, Owairaka District School is one of those ones on a busy arterial [road]. They had temporary speed limits in place at 40km/h during the school pick-up and drop-off," Genter said. 

"We're going to support these speed limit changes with permanent engineering changes, like the brand new crossing that's here at Owairaka District School.

"We'll hopefully be seeing more of those and that's certainly making a difference."

A spokesperson for Genter explained the reason the Government set a higher maximum speed limit around rural schools is because there's different risks associated with the two. 

For urban schools he said the main risk is children being hit by fast driving cars, while in rural areas the higher risk is cars pulling out into traffic travelling at 100km/h.

Owairaka District School principal Sheryl Fletcher told reporters speeding around schools is a concern she shares with other schools across the country. 

"The 40km/h signs we've had for a long time now help to a degree but we know we don't get 100 percent improvement so, we absolutely welcome it."

The New Zealand Automobile Associate (AA) is also welcoming the variable speed limits around schools and a spokesperson says most motorists understand the need for it. 

AA principal advisor for regulations Mark Stockdale said AA surveyed members a few years ago and found 97 percent supported using flashing variable signs at the times of the day when children are likely to be crossing the road.

However, he said it may be difficult for drivers in rural areas to go from 100km/h to 60km/h in such a short amount of time. 

Genter also acknowledged that challenge, and said the Government will be "putting aside money" to support rural schools to get safer infrastructure around them, including more variable speed limit signs. 

Genter also announced that the Government plans to bring in more speed cameras and warning signs. She said that's because the Government would rather people slow down than give out speeding tickets. 

Stockdale also welcomed that announcement, saying: "Once signs have been installed, motorists will have no excuse for getting a ticket from a fixed camera, and we expect the number of camera tickets issued to fall, and safety to improve as a result."

The ownership and operation of safety cameras will also be transferred from the police to the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA). 

The changes are expected to be in place by mid-2020 as part of the 'Road to Zero' Road Safety Strategy and action plan to be announced soon.

Genter said the reason it could take up to a decade for the changes to fully come into effect is because that's the limit the Government's giving councils to get it done. 

New 30km/h limits across Auckland's city centre were announced last month by Auckland Transport which will be introduced in phases - described by National leader Simon Bridges as "stupid".