School Bus Safety Trial

April 4, 2014 10:53 pm

A year-long school bus safety trial in Ashburton has shown that illuminated 20K signs on buses can have a big impact on driver behaviour.


For years Rural Women NZ has called for clear signage on school buses to indicate the 20K speed limit in both directions when passing a bus that’s stopped to let children on or off.


Every day motorists speeding past school buses on rural roads put children’s lives at risk.


During the ‘Either Way It’s 20K’ trial in Ashburton there was a marked drop in speeds when the 20K signs were in operation, with many motorists slowing to between 25 and 35 km/h.


The bright LED signs lit up automatically when the bus door opened, and flashing amber lights operated for 20 seconds before the bus stopped and after it had pulled away, giving approaching drivers plenty of warning of a hazard ahead.

The three-stage trial was carried out by TERNZ Ltd with funding from the Road Safety Trust.  It began with an awareness campaign, followed by installation of the signs on Pearsons Coachlines’ school buses. The final stage was an enforcement operation by the police.

While the awareness campaign increased knowledge of the 20K rule, alone it had little effect on driver behaviour. However installation of the signs on the buses had an immediate and marked impact.


Rural Women NZ hopes the 20K signs will be approved for use as part of next year’s amendment to the Traffic Devices Control rule, if not sooner.


TERNZ’s final report and recommendations will be submitted to the New Zealand Transport Agency by the end of June.


  • In the 23 years since 1987, twenty-three children have been killed crossing the road to or from school buses. Another 47 have been seriously injured and 92 received minor injuries.
  • In New Zealand buses are multi-purpose and come in all shapes and sizes, the only requirement being to display a SCHOOL or KURA sign when they are used on a school bus run.
  • ;Despite good education programmes in schools and through the police, children will sometimes behave unpredictably and have poor ability to judge the speed of oncoming traffic.
Key Outcomes of the Trial
  • 26% more respondents in the post survey knew the legal speed limit past a school bus when stopped to drop off or pick up children.
  • 22% more respondents in the post survey claimed to normally pass a school bus at 20km/h when stopped to drop off or pick up children.
  • There was a 19% increase in the post-trial survey respondents that thought 20km/h was a safe speed past a school bus when stopped to drop off or pick up children.
  • More respondents agreed / strongly agreed that the sign combination (LED sign and school sign) was safer than the original school sign.
  • All stages of the trial showed a decrease in motorists speed past a school bus in 100km/h zones.
  • The enforcement + signs installation + awareness campaign showed the largest reduction in speed overall.
  • Long term results indicate the signs are effective at maintaining lower speeds past school buses with no accompanying targeted
  • The large external signs were legible from approximately 200m
  • The fields of sign performance exercise indicated that those motorists braking 200m prior to passing the school bus were able to reduce their speed to the 20km/h legal limit in a 100km/h area.
  • A set of signs on the front and back of a school bus is likely to cost in the region of $2000 installed.

Earlier reports from TERNZ on school bus safety.

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