24 Feb 2015

Mayor wants better tourist driving standards

12:32 pm on 24 February 2015

The mayor of Westland says it may be time to lift minimum standards for tourists who drive ill-prepared for New Zealand roads.

Supplied photo of a crash in New Zealand

The Ministry of Transport is looking at road quality, driver education, and information available to tourists. Photo: Supplied

Transport Ministry figures show 37 percent of all crashes in Westland involved a foreign driver, the highest proportion in the country.

District mayor, Mike Havill, says the figures do not surprise him because his region is a major destination for tourists, yet its roads are narrow and challenging.

Mr Havill says many more foreigners hiring their own vehicles is great for the economy but they do not all know how to drive safely on New Zealand's roads.

"The last thing we want to do is prohibit people from coming, but we need it so that it is safer and it may be that some people may be better on a bus tour than driving a car."

National MP for Waitaki, Jacqui Dean, says she has been contacted by many people since a five-year-old girl was killed on Saturday in a crash involving a Chinese driver.

Five foreign drivers were in court this week accused of dangerous driving in different parts of the country.

A 32-year old man from Beijing yesterday appeared in the Dunedin District Court over a crash in which five-year-old Ruby Marris died. Three other Chinese nationals and an Indian tourist were convicted and fined at Queenstown District Court for dangerous driving.

Ms Dean says there is a growing head of steam in the community for more to be done.

She says the chair of Parliament's transport and industrial relations select committee had told her it is having a good look at the problem.

Ministry of Transport figures show the 11 regions with the highest proportion of road crashes involving overseas drivers are all in the South Island.

The highest proportion of crashes involving a visitor occurred in Westland.

Mackenzie District had 27 percent of crashes involving tourists, Southland 25 percent followed by Queenstown, Kaikoura and Central Otago.

At the bottom of the list was Taupo, Selwyn, and Western Bay of Plenty where just 8 percent of crashes involved a foreigner.

Roading authorities however are defending their work educating overseas drivers despite the recent spate of accidents.

Transport Agency's regional director southern Jim Harland says the roads in the south play a part in the crash statistics.

"There are challenging driving conditions, particularly the Queenstown to Milford route which is particularly attractive to overseas and New Zealand visitors".

The Automobile Association says it is not practical to test tourists before they drive in this country.

Spokesperson for the AA, Simon Douglas, told Morning Report that 2.8 million visitors come to New Zealand each year and not all could be tested.

And he said a theory test was unlikely to help much anyway as visitors know New Zealand drives on the left.

"We think that physical interventions on the road, as well as making sure that visitors are in the safest car they can possibly get, are the keys to the problem here."

But Mr Harland says it is too early to say what it will take to improve safety.

"We are having some detailed analysis being undertaken at the moment to look at exactly who is involved in what kind of accidents in this part of New Zealand. Then we'll look at rumble strips and those sorts of things.

"We'll look at all of that but we need to get in behind the data a bit further."

The Ministry of Transport says it is looking at road quality, driver education and the information available to tourists.

Its land safety manager Leo Mortimer says it wants tourists to be better informed before they arrive.

"We are trying to get more of that sort of information to the country of origin before people come out, to make them aware of the driving situation in New Zealand, what the obligations are, what the laws are, so they are more prepared for driving here."

The Rental Vehicle Association says about two rental contracts a week are cancelled during the peak season because of poor driving.

Its chief executive Barry Kidd says the statistics reflect an increase in demand.

"New Zealand visitor numbers are increasing quite steadily and more overseas visitors are choosing to travel around on their own using rental vehicles and private vehicles. It's not surprising that the numbers of accidents that overseas visitors are involved in is increasing, particularly in the high tourist areas."

Mr Kidd says rental outlets are playing their part to provide customers with safety information on driving in New Zealand.

"I'd be very surprised if you got into any rental car in the country and didn't find keep left stickers, road safety messages both on the websites and in any information that is provided to people both at the time of booking and when they pick up the rental vehicle."

Mr Kidd says there is no legal obligation on outlets to provide this information.

He says their only obligation is to check the driver has a license - but he does not think this means the industry needs to be more tightly regulated.

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