Road safety

More children die and are injured in traffic crashes than any other form of accident. On average, a child is injured every day on New Zealand roads, and one dies on average every 18 days.

Road safety is an important part of the Police’s work. In 2000, the new Government believed it was important enough to re-establish a separate traffic force to deal specifically with traffic safety and enforcement. The new highway patrol would be dedicated solely to traffic duties.

Key road safety messages from the Police and New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) have screened on television and in the press. In one commercial, family members die because seatbelts are not worn; in another hard-hitting series of commercials, a teenage driver injured in a crash is shunned by his mates and has to be helped by his mother with his toileting. The Police believe the messages are important if New Zealand is to improve its death and injury statistics. Education is a key feature of the Police campaign to change road habits.

Officers spend many hours in classrooms and at schools helping children understand road safety. However, parents still have the greatest influence and can greatly minimise traffic danger if they help their children learn some basic road safety rules, and if they follow the rules themselves. If you jaywalk across the road, ride a bicycle without a helmet or run red lights, your children will soon be confused about what they should be doing. Chances are they will follow what you do, not what you say. Avoid double standards by setting an example. As soon as a child is old enough to move about, they have the potential to be involved in a road accident. That is why it is crucial that parents keep toddlers away from the roads by keeping doors and gates closed or the child under close supervision.

When they are old enough for school, go with them over the route they will be taking. If they are to walk to school, walk with them a few days beforehand and look for the safest route, keeping an eye out for danger spots, particularly where they have to cross the road. Get them to use pedestrian crossings and talk about where cars might come from – perhaps around a corner or from a driveway. If they are to take a bus, show them where they will get off the bus and where they should then go. The road outside a school is always busy when the school day begins and ends. Parents should:

  • Always set a good road safety example with your children when crossing the road – it will help to ensure their safety when you aren’t there.
  • Walk to the school gate to drop off or collect your child – always hold on to little hands.
  • Never call out from across the road – excited children forget to look out for traffic.
  • Have children use the car door on the footpath side – it keeps them away from the traffic.
  • Never stop on the yellow ‘No Stopping’ lines – they are there to ensure children can see and be seen.
  • Take extreme care when pulling into driveways close to the school – child pedestrians can be unpredictable and unaware of your presence.
  • On wet days, drive slowly and with patience. Obey all school parking restrictions – be prepared to walk further than usual.
  • Above all, choose road safety over convenience.

Our teenagers are likely to reflect our driving and road safety habits as they come to the point where they want to get their driving licence. An investment in a reputable driving school will be money well spent. Even if you think you know how to drive safely, you might not be the best person to teach your teenager. Make sure you talk to teenagers about road safety, particularly about the dangers of speed and drink-driving, and the fact that a licence means they must act responsibly not only for their own safety, but also for that of their friends and other road users. Ensure they observe the rules and responsibilities that go with being a learner and restricted driver.

Make it click!

Keep children safe in your car by ensuring they are securely strapped into approved child seats. Remember, it is your responsibility as the driver, to make sure children are buckled in properly. The law says if a child seat is available, it must be used. If there is no car seat but seat belts are available, then they must be used if they fit the child. If neither is available, then children must travel in the back seat.

Child restraint and medical professionals recommend that you keep your baby in a rear-facing restraint until as old as practicable, at least until they are 2 years of age. Some infant seats must also be secured to the car by a special tether strap and bolt. A child seat faces forward in the car and is designed for children who can hold their head up by themselves.

Plunket has seats to hire at reasonable prices. If you decide to buy seats, check to see if the seats have the Standards Approved label. Booster seats are designed to ‘boost’ your children so they can better fit a car seat belt. Ideally, a booster seat should be used in conjunction with a child harness.

The harness is designed for children from 4-8 years and is used in conjunction with a car lap seat belt. The harness is secured to the car by an anchor bolt. If your child has outgrown a booster seat and harness, they are ready for a car seat belt. The lap portion of the belt should be worn low, should fit snugly and should not cut across your child’s face or neck. Child-proof locks will stop bored children trying to get out of the car.

Safety seats

A recent law change means all children aged up to 7 must be in an appropriate child restraint (such as a booster seat) in a vehicle, and those aged between 7 and 8 must use one if it’s available. The change aims to reduce the injury and fatality rate for young children by ensuring they’re not restrained in an adult seat belt. In any event, it’s recommended that kids use a child restraint or booster seat at least until they’re 148cm tall.

One of the leading causes of injury involves children as passengers in vehicles. About 15 children a year die and about 300 end up in hospital. Booster seats for preschool and school-aged kids have been shown to reduce the risk of hospitalisation and death by up to 59%.

Keep the kids safe by:

  • Always using the correct child restraint and booster seat for your child’s height and age.
  • Following the manufacturer’s’ instructions for your child restraint.
  • Making sure your child restraint or booster seat correctly fits your vehicle.
  • Getting help installing your child restraint or booster. Contact an NZTA-certified child restraint technician for support and to get help to correctly install a child restraint.
  • Putting kids in the back seat where it’s safest.

Drink-driving

Drinking and driving is a dangerous mix. Because it’s difficult to know whether you might be under the legal blood/alcohol limit (especially as an inexperienced teenager), the simplest rule is not to drive if you are drinking. Alcohol slows your reactions, dulling your judgment and vision and impairing your ability to drive. If you are convicted of a drunk-driving charge, you can expect severe penalties – even imprisonment. It’s no fun, as a teenager, to have to go through a court appearance and to suffer the penalties.

Apart from losing your driver’s licence or having to pay a hefty fine, you could lose your job and have your social life ruined. Statistically, you are most at danger of being involved in a drink-driving crash if you are an 18 to 30-year-old male. Although comprising only 15% of all drivers, they make up 50% of all drunk drivers in crashes. Two-thirds of fatal crashes to which alcohol contributed occurred on open roads. Alcohol is the second most common reason for a fatal crash after speed.

What can we do as parents to keep our teenagers safe if they are drinking? We can offer to pick them up from parties, restaurants or pubs. We can spell out the advantages of having a designated driver, (someone who does not drink so they can drive the others home) when they go out with friends. More importantly, we should set an example by not driving after drinking.

Pedestrians

In general, pedestrian crossings are safe places to cross the road. However you should still observe the stop, look and listen rule, especially when with children. Children up to the age of 8 years are incapable of judging speed and distance with any certainty. It is important that the adult be a good role model by choosing not to cross roads from between parked cars, but to cross where there is clear vision of any oncoming traffic and that the pedestrian is clearly visible to drivers of the vehicles.

Children are not mini adults – traffic is an adult world! When walking with a small child always keep the child within arm’s length, preferably hold the child’s hand and have the child walk on the property side of the footpath.

  • Be alert to traffic moving in or out of driveways.
  • Do not encourage children to use driveways as play areas – the road is not a playground.
  • Be aware at all times the need to stop, look and listen when crossing roads. Even at controlled stops.
  • Check that the road is clear before pushing baby’s pram onto it.
  • Create safe play areas away from traffic for your children.
  • Always supervise young children closely in traffic situations e.g. car parking areas at malls, supermarkets and parks.
  • Refrain from calling to your child from across the road.
  • Always place children in the car before loading goods.

Children are unreliable around traffic – supervision is essential.

Cyclists

Cycling is a fun and healthy activity. However, cycle injuries are painful and annually more than 600 cyclists are seriously injured, with more than 10 fatalities. It is not recommended that children under the age of 10 ride a bicycle on the road unless accompanied by an adult.

  • Make sure the helmet your child wears is safety approved.
  • Wearing a helmet when on a bicycle is required by law.
  • Your helmet should be fitted properly – snug as possible with minimum padding.
  • The straps should be securely fastened at all times.
  • Choose a bright coloured helmet so that you are clearly visible.
  • Always wear shoes when riding a bicycle and brightly coloured clothing – to be SAFE you have to be SEEN.
  • Check your child’s bicycle for wear, rust and loose connections on a regular basis.
  • Regularly check brake pads.
  • If your child carries parcels on their bicycle, make sure you have a proper carrier or basket fitted to the bicycle – it is not safe to ride a bicycle with parcels on the handlebars.
  • When possible, cycle with your child to check that they observe road safety practices on the road.
  • Help your child to be a safe cyclist by teaching them to ride and ensuring they are comfortable before they ride in traffic.
  • Your child should be able to: turn, stop, keep their balance at low speeds and be able to look behind while controlling the bicycle.
  • Learning the rules of the road are vital before your child rides on the road with a competent cyclist.
  • It is not advisable for children to be riding bicycles at night.
  • A bicycle should be fitted with a white front light, a rear red light, an approved red rear reflector and amber pedal reflectors before being used after dark.
  • Road safety equipment suggested are: elbow pads, reflector waist belt, gloves, jeans and enclosed footwear.

Driving

Excess speed on our roads is the single largest road safety issue. Some facts:

  • The faster the speed, the more fatal the crashes and the more serious the injuries.
  • A car travelling at more than 70km/hour hits a pedestrian full-on, fatality is almost certain.
  • A car travelling at more than 70km/hour hits a pedestrian in passing, loss of a limb is very likely.
  • A car travelling at under 50km/hour and hits a pedestrian, it is very likely a serious injury will result.
  • Any adult pedestrian hit below the waist will be catapulted over the car bonnet into the windscreen.
  • Above the waist will result in a run over.
  • Any child hit by a vehicle travelling at speed will result in head injuries and almost certain death.

Speed is as dangerous as drink-driving. If you are driving fast, you travel a lot further before you react to apply the brakes. Other people’s lives are in your hands when you are the driver of a vehicle. As the driver, you have responsibilities, some of these include:

  • Making sure that everyone under 15 years of age is wearing a safety belt or sitting in an approved child restraint.
  • Children under 5 years must by law be properly restrained in an approved child restraint.
  • Children 5 to 7 years must use an appropriate child restraint and it is advisable for children to sit in the back seat.
  • Children 8 to 14 years must use a safety belt.
  • Passengers over 14 years must wear a safety belt if there is one available.
  • If you, the driver, don’t wear a safety belt or allow your passengers under 15 years of age to travel unrestrained, you can be fined $150 for each person unrestrained – passengers over 15 years of age are responsible for their own fines.
  • Make sure you let children out of the car on the footpath side.
  • If you are picking children up from school or a bus stop, wait on the same side of the road.
  • Be watchful for young children or senior citizens waiting to cross the road – young children are unpredictable and many of the elderly are nervous of traffic – always allow time for both to cross to a safe zone before proceeding.
  • Be aware that at any time, a small child or an animal could enter the road – drive with care and consideration of others.
  • Never use hand-held mobile phones while driving – should your phone ring, pull to the side of the road and stop before answering.
  • Regular maintenance of your vehicle will ensure not only a carefree motoring holiday, but also your safety. Do not put off replacing worn tyres or brake pads – your life could depend on these.
  • Drink-driving isn’t an option – you do not have the right to risk anyone else’s safety.
  • Never place children or baby seats in the front seat of a car fitted with airbags.

Small wheels

Scooters, skateboards and rollerblades are a fun way to enjoy being mobile. However, doctors warn that serious injuries may result if road safety precautions are not taken. Even with protective gear and parent supervision, children can still suffer serious injury. Reasons outlined for scooter incidents were: riding too fast, hitting an object on the footpath and the lack of an adequate braking system. Note: it is not advisable for children under the age of 6 years to use these small wheels. Some points to be aware of:

  • A well fitted helmet and wrist guards should be worn when riding on small wheels.
  • Before purchasing small wheels, decide on a safe flat area where this gift can be used.
  • Daily check the bolts are tight.
  • Have awareness of pedestrian rights to a footpath.
  • Vehicles have road rights.
  • Uneven ground and small wheels = increased risk of injury.
  • Check out road rules and bylaws regarding the use of scooters and skateboards. Note: more than two-thirds of scooter injuries would have been lessened if road safety gear had been worn.
  • Always wear good footwear when riding small wheels.
  • Be alert when approaching corners (there might be someone approaching).
  • Avoid night riding.
  • 49% of injuries are to face and head.
  • Rollerblading and skateboard injuries are mostly caused by running into vehicles and pedestrians.

Make sure rollerblades are fitted properly. Too big and they cannot be controlled properly.

  • Make sure children learn to become competent riders in a safe, supervised situation.
  • Never hitch a ride behind a moving vehicle.
  • Complicated tricks on small wheels require careful practice in a specially designed area. Scooters are not designed for use in skateboard bowls or to be jumped from one level to another.

Walking school bus

A great innovation that is gaining support throughout the country is what’s known as “walking school buses”, initiated in New Zealand by the organisation Safekids NZ.

It’s essentially a group of parents who walk with up to eight primary school children to ensure they get safely to and from school. The kids are dropped off and picked up at stops on a designated route by their parents. The route is usually about a kilometre long and is assessed for suitability by a traffic engineer. Safekids says the key benefits of the walking school buses are:

  • Reducing the known risk factors for child pedestrian injury.
  • Reducing car congestion around schools (an average of 21 fewer cars travelling to school per route).
  • Greater awareness by everyone in the community on the role they play in child pedestrian safety.

Road safety includes driveways

New Zealand is somewhat unique in having long driveways on properties, especially in the smaller rural towns. This is because the “quarter-acre section” traditionally had the garage at the back of the section. The danger of the long driveway is the distance cars often have to travel in reverse, which limits drivers’ ability to see small children. Vision from a driver’s seat can be restricted for up to 10 metres from the back of the car.

Every two weeks a child is hospitalised with serious injuries received from a vehicle driving on a private driveway in New Zealand. Another five kids are killed annually, on average. Most injuries are to toddlers about two years old and are often severe. The driver is usually a close family member, resulting in devastating effects on families.

The Safekids campaign has raised awareness throughout the country of how to be more “road safety” conscious on driveways. The message is that you should know where the kids are before you get in the car because if an accident happens, there’s no going back.

  • Check, supervise and separate
  • Check for children before driving off.
  • Supervise children around vehicles – always.

Separate play areas from driveways.

Also have someone watch around your vehicle as you leave to ensure no kids are nearby, and get visitors to park on the road.