Overhauling school zones

School zones 24 hours a day seven days a week are suddenly more than the dream of control-freak teachers and revenue-ravenous government bean counters. Evaluating the 24-hour zones is one of the recommendations this week of the NSW Government’s Staysafe inquiry into school zones, and while the O’Farrell government made reassuring noises immediately after the release of the inquiry’s report, the prospect of permanent zones must be stronger than when they were advocated by finger waggers at the NSW Teachers Federation.

South Australia has such permanent zones, and Staysafe recommends that the government consider also the 8am-4pm zones of the ACT. These permanent or longer zone times, Staysafe says, would resolve problems with timing inconsistencies in NSW zones and with pupil-free days and would provide greater certainty for drivers. Just as, I suppose, imposing a 40 km/h limit on all NSW roads would provide greater certainty for drivers.

Staysafe recommends also that flashing lights be installed at all school zones, that penalties for speeding in a zone with flashing lights be increased, and not many among us have sympathy for drivers who speed deliberately through school zones. The problem has been drivers not noticing the school zone sign among the roadside clutter, and flashing lights overcome this and any uncertainty about the time.

But so many school zones do seem to be an unnecessary disruption to traffic, and many of these are on roads that are well separated from the school and students.

I believe there is a better alternative to surrounding a school with a 40 km/h zone. That is, impose a 40 km/h limit on all residential streets, put pedestrian fences along main roads near schools, install pedestrian traffic lights across or pedestrian bridges over those main roads and remove the 40 km/h limit. Surely this would provide a safer environment for students, who are at greater-than-usual risk when a vehicle travels through a school zone at an unexpectedly higher speed than 40 km/h. Students swarming across a road, as they often do now, even when traffic is travelling at 40km/h are at significant risk still, and well-designed fences, crossings and bridges would keep the students away from all traffic danger. Flashing lights could warn drivers on the main road that they were passing a school, and any idiot student who climbed over a fence would expect vehicles to be travelling at 60 or 70 km/h.

Children, and adults, in all residential streets would be served well by the lower limit of 40 km/h, and since we drive on these streets usually to reach a main thoroughfare the lower limit won’t be too hard on drivers. If the child-protection principle of school zones is worthwhile it should be extended to many other areas that attract children, among them preschools, parks, cinemas, sporting grounds, McDonald’s outlets, beaches and skate parks, and why shouldn’t temporary 40 km/h zones be installed for a children’s party?

My 40 km/h residential zone makes all residential streets safer, and makes the side streets surrounding a school safer because it removes the need for drivers to notice the school zone time and get the day and time right. Pedestrian fences funnelling students to pedestrian lights or a pedestrian bridge must improve the safety of students. Removing the need for drivers to notice and adhere to a 40 km/h limit on these main-road stretches must improve that safety further.

Does the school zone need an overhaul? Should 40km/h be applied to all streets and removed from main roads near schools?

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