Crash survivor backs tougher penalties

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A British tourist injured in a horror car crash is calling for harsher fines and prison sentences for people whose poor driving causes death or serious injury.

Paul Whitmell, a chartered accountant from Cambridge, is recovering from serious injuries in Dunedin Hospital after the rental car he was driving on Gibbston Highway, near Queenstown, on Saturday was struck by another rental car driven on the wrong side of the road by Chinese tourist Qian Li, 34.

Whitmell, 57, contacted the Otago Daily Times yesterday in the hope sharing his story and thoughts on what needed to be done would prevent more unnecessary deaths at the hands of foreign drivers.

“I do not feel vindictive, I do not seek any form of retribution or revenge. What I want … is to try and save another New Zealand life.” 

Whitmell says harsher fines and prison sentences and more guidance from rental companies are needed to prevent further deaths.

It is an over-simplification to simply blame foreign drivers who did not know New Zealand’s road rules, and rental car companies bear some of the responsibility.

“[Foreign drivers are] getting cars without proper instructions, without being told the rules of the road, and they are driving and killing your citizens, including a 5-year-old girl.”

When he hired his rental car from Auckland, he was given no guidance about his car, or New Zealand’s roads, from the over-worked and rushed staff member behind the counter.

“They just give you the key and they let you on the road with three tonnes of metal, going at 70 miles [100km] an hour.”

He believes rental companies should have a check list where they run through New Zealand’s road rules with all foreign drivers.

“The rental companies have a duty to tell them the rules of your road and not let them have the keys until they feel that they understand them.”

Harsher fines should be used to help pay for the cost to New Zealand’s healthcare system caused by crashes involving foreign drivers. 

Whitmell hopes his near-death experience at the hands of a foreign driver prevents a repeat of the crash that killed a 5-year-old Oamaru girl.

The Gibbston crash, two weeks into a month-long “holiday of a lifetime”, left him with a broken elbow, foot and ribs and a collapsed lung and his wife, Rosie, 54, with a fractured eye, perforated bowel and a badly fractured wrist.

“It took just under an hour to free us from the car and then they air ambulanced me here and they took my wife by air ambulance to Southland Hospital.

“I remember sitting in the car looking at my wife, blood coming down her face and my face and going into unconsciousness.

“They tell me that they were resuscitating me on the way here.”

Since arriving at Dunedin Hospital, he has been deeply touched by the death of 5-year-old Ruby Jay Marris, who was killed in a car crash near Moeraki, also on Saturday, which resulted in a 32-year-old Beijing resident being charged.

Whitmell has spoken to members of the Marris family who are recovering from their injuries in Dunedin Hospital.

“The family down below have been to see me and we cried a lot,” he says.

Otago Daily Times