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Buckle up or bus-ted

Left to right: Karen Williams [Fed Farmers] and Philippa Cameron handng the seatbelts on school buses petition to National MP Jacqui Dean on the steps of Parliament. PHOTOS/JOHN LAZO-RON

Calls for seatbelts on school buses have fallen on deaf ears with previous governments. However, a new drive on safety restraints took a positive turn last Wednesday when a joint party delivered a petition onto the steps of Parliament. JOHN LAZO-RON reports.

More than 100,000 school children step on to buses every day in New Zealand.

While it is a law for each school kid to wear a seatbelt in a car, it isn’t when they take a seat on a bus. This is unacceptable, according to Federated Farmers vice-president Karen Williams.

Karen Williams and Philippa Cameron.

Williams, who lives in Gladstone, was in Wellington last week. She teamed up with Otago mum and instigator of the petition Philippa Cameron to support a unified call for seat belts to be made mandatory on school buses throughout New Zealand.

The petition gained more than 6500 signatures in just four weeks, which the pair presented to National MP and chairwoman of the petitions committee Jacqui Dean on the steps of Parliament.

The pair were also supported by representatives from Rural Women NZ and St John NZ on the day.

Williams said being from Gladstone she knows too well what impact Wairarapa roads, mainly rural, could have on school buses.

She said if a change wasn’t made soon, disaster was bound to happen.

“We’re a rural community, and some of our rural roads are particularly bad,” Williams said.

“You look at some of the roads out to the coast that some of our school buses are on. They’re rougher, they’re often poorly maintained, and sometimes buses must slam on the brakes.

“All of a sudden, you’ve got small flying missiles that aren’t harnessed in, and it’s just a recipe for disaster.”

Williams said people supporting the petition agreed it was unsafe and illogical that parents unbuckle their youngsters from legislatively needed seat belts in their cars and put them on to buses that don’t have the same essential safety equipment.

“When our children are babies, they’re safely belted in. But when they turn five and get on a school bus, suddenly it doesn’t matter?

“We get fined when we drive without [seatbelts] on.

Karen Williams [Fed Farmers] and Philippa Cameron passing on the petition to National MP Jacqui Dean on the steps of Parliament.
“Many of our kids go to rural primary schools, or they travel into our secondary schools from the rural area. Yet we put our little people on school buses with no booster seat, no harness, nothing.

Gladstone Primary School principal Belinda Bunny agreed.

“Absolutely,” she said when asked if seatbelts need to go on school buses.

“I think for any rural school, the buses are travelling on roads where people go way faster than they should pass school buses.

“Anything we can do to prevent kids getting hurt if there was an accident is really important.”

Three out of Gladstone Primary’s four buses have been fitted with seat belts, which Bunny said was ideal considering that at least 130 of their 160 pupils catch the bus daily.

A bus driver, who wished to remain anonymous, said seatbelts on buses was a “no-brainer” with drivers regularly failing to slow down around buses.

“Seatbelts in buses becoming law would be great,” the bus driver said.

Rural school kids get picked up and dropped off at bus stops on 100kmh roads daily.

“People need to slow down 20kmh either way when a school bus is stationary and loading passengers.

“Every now and then, you don’t know what’s going to happen, and if you’ve got to hit the brakes and [the kids have] got a seatbelt on, they’re going to stop. If they don’t, straight through.”

Williams and Cameron said they don’t expect overnight change to the law but want to see a plan for staged implementation.

“I’m optimistic,” Williams said.

“Now that it’s been formally received, we’ll go forward from there.

“Our children are precious, and we should be sending them off to school safely.”

The petition would now go before the petitions committee.

Dean pledged to put it before other MPs so that the next steps could be decided.

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