31 Jul 2019

Parents criticise coroner's comments on unaccompanied walk to school

6:38 pm on 31 July 2019

A coroner has copped criticism for suggesting a 6-year-old girl's death could have been avoided if she had been accompanied by an adult on her way to and from school.

Carla Neems died after being struck by a truck in Gisborne.

Carla Neems died after being struck by a truck in Gisborne. Photo: Supplied

Carla Neems was run over by a rubbish truck outside her house in Gisborne two years ago.

She had scootered the last part of her short trip from school to home by herself when she likely crossed immediately in front of a rubbish truck in the driver's blind spot and was hit.

In his findings about the case, Coroner Tim Scott called for warning sensors on rubbish trucks, saying they could have saved her life.

Her family were pleased by this, saying they hoped it would help keep other pedestrians safe.

However, Mr Scott also criticised Carla's parents for not accompanying her to and from school saying the best way to keep a young child safe is for a responsible adult to be with them.

Carla's father Dion Neems said that was not practical for all families, and they thought Carla would be safe scootering with her siblings or friends on the very quiet, suburban street.

"She was on her scooter every day, she was a real sensible kid, she knew the risks around crossing a road - we'd been through that with her. It wasn't like at the age of five we said 'you're off to school on your own'," Mr Neems said.

Gisborne's mayor Meng Foon said he was disappointed by the Coroner's comments, because thousands of kids walked and rode to school by themselves every day and he did not want that to change.

Gisborne District mayor Meng Foon

Gisborne mayor Meng Foon Photo: New Zealand Government

"I like to think we still live in a very safe community, that the kids are informed of people that may cause harm and ensuring they're educated to walk on the footpath, walk together and also cross at the pedestrian crossings," he said.

As a result of the accident, rubbish trucks no longer collected waste around the times children were going to and from schools, Mr Foon said.

Lobbying and advocacy group Living Streets Aotearoa's president Andy Smith said it was up to parents to decide whether their children were able to take themselves to school.

He said the coroner should be reprimanded for his comments.

"Everyone has the right to walk to school accompanied or unaccompanied. We need good footpaths for feet, not for vehicles to drive over or stay on, and we've got to make the roads safer and slow down the traffic in the residential areas," he said.

Whetu Cormick, president of the NZ Principals' Federation.

NZ Principals' Federation president Whetu Cormick Photo: Supplied

New Zealand Principals' Federation president Whetu Cormick said he found the coroner's comments surprising, because not all six-year olds needed to be accompanied.

"Sometimes that's just not practical and actually if the school is just down the road then you know we want to trust our children that they're going to get safely to school," he said.

"Schools and parents make the decisions that are appropriate for them in the context they live within."

Education Minister Chris Hipkins said his "sympathies go out to Carla's parents during this difficult time".

"Parents, schools and their local communities are best placed to determine how to keep kids safe on their journey to and from school," the Minister said.

The Transport Agency offers resources to schools and families on how to set up a walking school bus with an adult driver.

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