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SSC Newspaper : April 2012
K eeping our children safe is the priority of every community. And the school run is often a race against time for parents juggling the need to get to work on time and drop off their children by the first bell. Accidents happen. So the pilot scheme by St Martha’s Primary School in Strathfield to outfit younger pupils in yellow reflective vests marks a real step forward in road safety. You can’t miss even the tiniest kids in their bright lightweight vests marked with a 40km/h speed limit sign. St Martha’s principal Maria Maiorana explained that parents had been keen to take up the scheme, as the school’s entrance backs on to narrow Churchill Avenue. “ We’ve been lucky in that we haven’t had any accidents here, but we did want to increase the visibility of students around the school so that they are more easily seen by drivers,” she said. A trial run at the end of term four last year with kindergarten children had now been extended to pupils in years one and two, she said. The school’s Parents and Friends Group also backed the moves to dress their children in the $10 high-visibility vests. “It’s a very busy corner,” said the group’s president Jane Leroi. “ We’d love to get flashing lights outside the school but wearing these jackets makes parents much more aware of the dangers.” A raft of recommendations to improve pedestrian safety outside schools was made recently by the NSW Staysafe Committee to the state government. They include steeper fines for drivers ignoring the 40km/h speed limits outside school zones. More schools should have flashing lights installed outside their grounds to warn drivers of the dangers. And the hours of school zones could also be extended from the present 8am to 9.30pm and from 2.30pm to 4pm on school days, the committee suggested. In the ACT, they operate all through the school day from 8am to 4pm, while in South Australia, the speed limits outside schools remain in place 24 hours a day. The report also urged Roads and Maritime Services to ensure that all signs outside schools were correctly installed, and that the zone locations be made available to users of GPS systems. Revenue raised from speed cameras outside schools should be reinvested in road safety projects, the committee recommended. Speed limits in school zones appear to have reduced accidents. NSW statistics indicate that there was a 45 percent decrease in average annual pedestrian injuries around school zones since they were introduced. Additional improvements have included zigzag “dragon’s teeth” lane markings indicating school zones and fluorescent signs, as well as increased penalties for driving and parking offences around schools. A $46.5-million program has installed flashing lights at 400 NSW schools. Yet about 16 school students die on our roads each year, according to statistics from Foundation 40 Australia, a non-profit organisation set up in Strathfield last year to improve school road safety. “ We hope with our child safety programs that we can make a significant dent in the figures of injuries and fatalities,” said Foundation 40’s executive director Jim Austin. His aim is to promote the use of high- visibility vests throughout Australia, which he said increase the reaction time of drivers and raise the safety margin. “The idea for the vests came when I was accompanying an excursion from Sydney Children’s Hospital to a car-crushing plant in Blacktown,” he explained. As visitors, the children were outfitted in high-visibility work clothing, which sparked the idea of the lightweight vests for children to wear to and from school, he said. “ We’ve gone from there, with the idea to protect young children,” said Austin, who is a former airline pilot with extensive experience in road safety. “My mission at the foundation is to drastically reduce the fatalities and injuries sustained through motor vehicle accidents and to assist drivers being more aware of the dangers around school zones. “Together we can all make a difference and we can promote a safer Australia for our young. In doing so, we also make our children more safety-conscious,” he said. His foundation is pushing for flashing lights outside all Australian schools, as well as wider use of the safety vests. Austin is also working on a range of high-visibility backpacks and caps for older school children, that he hopes to have available later this year. Overtaking in school zones is illegal and attracts a $441 fine and four demerit points off a driver’s licence. U-turns are another problem Austin points out, with fines of $353 and up to four demerit points. Strathfield Scene 11 www.ourstrathfield.com.au the big issue With bigger fines suggested for drivers who speed through school zones, one Strathfield school is taking road safety into its own hands by outfitting its young pupils in fluorescent vests. Sarah Macklin reports. How safe are our cHildren? We hope with our child safety programs to make a significant dent in the figures of injuries and fatalities. scHool rules for trouble-free travel Like many other schools, St Martha’s teachers emphasise the rules of safe travel for children to and from school. These are: • Follow a familiar route • Travel with others • Don’t stop to play alone in parks • Know nearby safe houses. For details, see www.foundation40.org.au