You can’t read legislation for very long without finding instances of weird edge cases. My favourite used to be the old Summary Offences Act which had prohibitions against wearing carpet slippers in public.
Simon Collins at NewstalkZB writes about an example. Why we have kids trying to walk or bike on gravel roads with no sidewalks to get to school. When modern cars travel these narrow lanes at up to 100km/hour.
Hundreds of children living on rural roads near towns are being barred from school buses under a law that hasn’t changed since 1904.
Kaipara College students Kael McFarlane and Ethan Hepper, both 13, watch a school bus go past their doors on Inland Rd 3.8km outside Helensville, but the bus is only allowed to pick up high-school students if they live more than 4.8km from school.
The road is unsealed, has no footpath and winds over a steep hill between the college and the boys’ homes.
Kael sometimes walks it, taking just under an hour. He has asked if he can ride his bike, but his mother Tracey McFarlane won’t let him.
“He nearly gets knocked off,” she said.
Ethan’s father Matt Hepper said: “We’d be happy to tell the kids to harden up if it was safe, but it’s not safe.”NewstalkZB: “Children barred from school bus by 117-year-old law“
The important things to notice about this particular part of the Education Act was that it was written in 1877, and revised with different limits for age groups in 1904. Most students at the time would have walked to work over farmland or bush. Rural and even urban roads were mostly dirt, the exception was gravelled roads. The average transport speed was slow. Motorised transport maximum speed of all transport was 12km/hour.
These days, kids walking over industrial farming is not liked by farmers. Rural roads have no sidewalks, are usually gravelled or paved, and the speed limit is typically 100km/hour. Most hilly rural roads that I have been around are typically driven at about 60-80km/hour – including the gravelled roads. They are also full of blind corners which careful drivers will reduce speed around. Personally I wouldn’t ride a bike or walk on them myself, and I spent a lot of time on rural roads around Puhio / Waiwera when I was growing up.
A Ministry of Education spokeswoman said the limits were set in the Education Act of 1877, which introduced compulsory education for all children aged 7-13 who lived “within the distance of two miles measured according to the nearest road from a public school”.
“An amendment was made in 1904 to recognise the different distances per age group,” the ministry said.
“At the time, these settings reflected that walking distance was likely to represent a barrier to rural children attending schools. These established distances continue to be applied fairly and consistently today.
“While there has been no change to the criteria for over 100 years, people have greater access to transport, more vehicle options and improved roading than was available in the early 1900s.”
In the Kaipara area, school buses used to pick up some students within the specified limits because they had empty seats, but they stopped doing that on the Inland Rd route last year because of population growth.NewstalkZB: “Children barred from school bus by 117-year-old law“
This is common across large parts of the rural landscape near urban centres these days. When my parents grabbed a 88 acre block as a weekend lifestyle block back in 1975 (for an incredibly low price), there were about 30 houses along the road from Silverdale to the Upper Waiwera over 10 km to where we lived. I haven’t been up there in a decade – but there would be at least 250 houses now. Low densities, but there are a lot of people using those roads these days. The road there is now tarseal. But hasn’t had any engineering and is still designed as the cart track it was in 1904.
This is what has been happening all around the rural districts close to Auckland.
The ministry has budgeted $221 million for school transport this year and provides free buses for about 100,000 of the country’s 826,000 schoolchildren.NewstalkZB: “Children barred from school bus by 117-year-old law“
That is really the crux of the issue. Sure parents could drive their kids to school. But really all that does is increase the traffic on the roads. Not to mention the productivity drops as people who are increasingly working remotely drive 8km round trips. It is bad enough in the sidewalked roads of Auckland where the parents picking up kids cause a double daily traffic congestion problem.
Personally, I think that Parliament should get Treasury to have a look at the economic pros and cons of school transport, both urban and rural, against the productivity issues, road wear and accidents. I’m pretty sure that I know how that will work out.
But really, legislation that has been on the books for 117 years and subject to technological change just needs to be reviewed more regularly. Consider this.
In a lot of ways we got lucky during the Covid-19 pandemic. The legislation we ran on was updated recently in 2006 largely as a result of the SARS epidemic. But before that it’d only had a minor set of tweaks in 1953 on the legislation from the 1920s after the influenza epidemic. You have to remember that viruses were only observed in 1940. The first systematically developed vaccine (for polio) against them was announced in 1955. The first passenger jets for NZ (the main disease carrier) only started in NZ in 1960.
The warmed over legislation from the 1920s was technically well past it use-by date by 2006. Perhaps Parliament should look at how they should systematically review legislation over the decades.