Call to test tourist drivers

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A Queenstown demand for action over high-risk tourist drivers has been backed by 10,000 people in 48 hours.

Will Palmer’s petition on change.org calls on the Ministry of Transport to introduce measures to curb the threat from inept overseas motorists.

Widespread public outrage has followed a chaotic and tragic weekend on South Island roads.

Brit Palmer’s petition says: “We have to do something about this problem before more and more people are put at risk, injured or even worse, killed on New Zealand’s roads.”

The Queenstown hostel manager, 25, wants mandatory tests for non-English speaking tourists and those who normally drive on the right.

He also suggests to Mountain Scene that rental firms should be told to install dashboard cams in their cars.

At the very least, they should show instructional videos to tourists before handing over the keys, he says.

“There’s very little education for tourist drivers so I decided to start the ball rolling, and it’s snowballed,” he
tells Mountain Scene.

“There’s a lot of concern out there.”

The government’s already pooh-poohed the idea of mandatory tests.

Associate Transport Minister Craig Foss says: “Any written or practical test for overseas drivers could impinge on NZers’ freedom to drive in other countries.

“It may also be in breach of NZ’s legal obligations under the 1949 United Nations Convention on Road Traffic Treaties.”

The Automobile Association’s also against testing, saying both theoretical and physical tests are not a pragmatic or practical solution.

Its stance was revealed in a submission to Parliament two weeks ago - on a 31,250-signature petition by South Canterbury brothers Cody, nine, and Sean Roberts, 10. Their father Grant was killed in a collision with a Chinese driver in 2012.

AA policy and research manager Simon Douglas says tests would not make a difference and small changes to highways in tourist hotspots would be more effective.

The government-led Visiting Drivers Signature Project is looking at measures such as rumble strips, median barriers, laybys and photography maps showing where it’s safe to take photos.

Cromwell commuter Danielle Robertson, 21, who signed Palmer’s petition, says: “I think everyone’s a bit
wary and nervous now because of all the crashes and deaths.

“I come through Kawarau George to work every day and you have to be very cautious - especially at the Crown
Range and Arrow junctions where they’ll just pull out without any appreciation of how fast cars are coming.

“I read some think if there are no yellow lines, you can drive on the wrong side. That’s pretty worrying because there’s so many blind bends on that road.

“It’s a serious problem in this area and I feel strongly about it.

“It might not be a national issue but this is the tourist captial and our roads are not easy.”

National Waitaki MP and Parliamentary Private Secretary for Tourism Jacqui Dean also raised questions about tourist drivers yesterday.

Five-year-old Ruby Jay Marris was killed in a head-on collision involving a foreign driver in Dean’s constituency.

Dean says: “How many more lives need to be lost, how many more families need to be destroyed, before the issue is thoroughly addressed?”

NZ Transport Agency figures show 43 per cent of fatal crashes in Central Otago 2009 to 2012 involved overseas licence holders.

paul.taylor@scene.co.nz