Face-to-face with my crash driver

Aftermath: A rental car and Allied Press' Subaru Forester, after a collision at Gibbston on May 7

“I’m Dave,” I say, extending my hand.

“Sorry,” Xin Wu says, shaking mine.

Then I tell him what it was like for me and my son two Sunday mornings ago when our cars crashed head-on.

It’s not your average restorative justice meeting. Queenstown court officials who usually oversee the process have gone home, so a police officer steps in as mediator.

My son can’t see over the dashboard, I explain to Wu, so the explosion of noise and the shattering shock of the smash in Gibbston was a mystery.

“I turned and my six-year-old, sitting in his booster seat, was crying from pain and shock.”

Through his interpreter, Wu says he has a five-year-old so he understands.

Earlier, in court, his lawyer says his second child has just been born – another reason for him to return quickly to China.

“Congratulations on your new child,” I say to Wu.

In our crashed car, the dash-board shunted my knee and smoke from the engine seeped in.

The driver’s door was stuck so I had to shoulder my way out.

“We’re both lucky,” I tell Wu.

“My son and I were able to walk away, even though I’m injured.

“My feeling is if our car had not been in your way, you would have skidded off the road and down a steep bank.”

More translation: “He thinks so, too.”

Wu told cops he took the cor-ner wide to give an oncoming car room. But what caused the crash, I ask. Inexperience? Slippery conditions? Unfamiliar roads?

“I don’t know,” comes the translated answer.

I explain his car emerged from fog, skidding out of control into our path. I had no time to react. Was it foggy as he rounded the bend?

“It was a stressful time. He doesn’t remember,” the inter-preter says.

Wu, 34, has had a driver’s licence for six years. In his city, the traffic is so congested there’s little danger of driving quickly.

Before he gets behind the wheel in New Zealand, the rental car company explains our road rules.

His interpreter says he was going well under 100kmh – suggesting caution – when his rental car’s left wheel dipped into gravel, prompting him to overcorrect and lose control.

But he’d been told Kiwi drivers are impatient and he was afraid of driving too slowly.

It’s a damned-if-you-don’t, damned-if-you-do driving strategy.

We all make mistakes, I tell Wu. I ask the interpreter to tell him that his actions have conse-quences on real people, with families.

Once the Mandarin version of my words are finished, he says in English: “Sorry.”

Restorative justice, which was made mandatory three years ago, has been dismissed by some as time-wasting, touchy-feely nonsense.

But, personally, I found it satisfying to face the guy and tell him what it was like for us.

Official crash stats, smoothed over five years, show 25 per cent of crashes in the Queenstown-Lakes involve an overseas driver.

More generally, about a third of at-fault overseas licence-holders failed to adjust to NZ rules or conditions.

Billboards, posters, keep-left arrows and no-passing lines don’t appear to be making much of a difference.

As we wait for the judge, Wu’s interpreter says he’s decided never to drive in NZ again.

I’d gladly pay back the $1250 reparation if he convinced more of his countrymen to do the same.