Queenstown rental firm tests foreign drivers

SHARE

A Queenstown car hire boss is pre-screening foreign drivers in an unprecedented move to combat local road carnage.

Greg Wensley of Wai Hire Cars believes rental firms have a “moral responsibility” for basic screening of customers.

Wai is launching an app this week “to test customers’ knowledge of the road rules”, he says.

Wensley: “In some [foreign] countries you can essentially just buy a driver’s licence without having to sit tests.

“In these customers’ hands, our rental cars can become deadly weapons.”

Barry Kidd, who heads the national Rental Vehicle Association (RVA), says Wai’s driver-screening app is the only one in the country he knows of and applauds the “good idea”.

The five-minute app test isn’t complicated.

Wensley says: “It’s all basic things and it’s not necessarily going to trip people up.

“It’s only going to trip up people who are just totally inadequate.”

Wai won’t test Kiwis or Australians but all other nationalities will be quizzed, including UK and US residents.

Wensley, 33, won’t yet say how he’ll decide whether a hirer passes or fails.

“We need to have a bit of history using it to see how people go before we determine what level we think we should [fail] people.”

When a customer does fail, however, Wensley says he’ll email all local rental firms to alert them.

Safety is more important than dollars, he believes, shrugging off the suggestion he’ll sacrifice profit.

“You have to make sure they’re going to be capable [drivers otherwise] they’re going to cause a whole lot of issues to the vehicle which will end up costing a lot more money than [the dollars] we’re turning down.”

RVA boss Kidd says “the overseas driver issue is a complex problem that needs to be addressed in multiple ways”.

Kidd says some RVA members talk foreign drivers through key road-safety points in their own language and get a written acknowledgement of the briefing.

Most other RVA members use a video.

Wensley says he’ll offer his app free to other Queenstown rental firms.

Two local rental rivals reacted positively to his initiative.

“Brilliant idea,” Direct Rentals owner Nicola MacAllan says.

Network and NZ Rentacar local boss Paul Weaver agrees and is interested in using the app.

NZ Transport Agency figures show 43 per cent of fatal crashes in Central Otago in 2009-12 involved overseas licence holders.

By yesterday, an online petition organised by Queenstowner Will Palmer had more than 12,000 responses.

Palmer’s petition calls for mandatory testing of tourist drivers who don’t speak English or who hail from right-hand-drive countries.

frank@scene.co.nz