Double the trouble – tourist drivers


Tourist drivers are increasingly involved in bad local smashes, the latest figures show, prompting fresh calls for rental car companies to test foreigners.

Ministry of Transport figures show that in 2011 about 15 per cent of fatal or injury road crashes in the Queenstown Lakes district involved overseas tourists.

By last year that had shot up to 33 per cent. That included three of five fatal crashes.

Nationally, the incidence of injury crashes involving Chinese drivers roughly doubled between 2009 and 2014 - while those involving Aussies and Brits dropped.

Mountain Scene crunched the numbers from MoT stats - which are usually averaged over several years.

Cromwell Transport boss Jason “Scotty” Scott says his 15 staff have noticed an increase in poor driving in the Kawarau Gorge.

Scott says: “Every day the boys are complaining [about bad driving] - and they all appear to be foreign drivers.

“I’d like to see [tourists] have to do some sort of test when they rent a car.”

Road safety charity Brake also backs basic tests for foreign drivers and is calling for more median barriers to be installed on highways.

Director Caroline Perry says visit ing drivers are over-represented in Queenstown crash statistics - and while it supports government efforts more should be done.

The government says there are more protective safety measures on southern highways than ever before and tourists are being peppered with safety messages before they land in New Zealand.

But Scott says new safety measures - like more no-passing lanes, rumble strips and “keep left” arrows - don’t appear to be working.

Some tourist drivers stop in the middle of Kawarau Gorge to take photos, he says.

“They’re not schooled up on how to drive over here.”

Foreign drivers were a huge issue last summer and were thrust back into the spotlight last week.

In a report investigating the deaths of three Chinese tourists in a horror smash near Luggate in November last year, Otago-Southland coroner David Crerar called for a greater safety focus on known danger areas.

He says the driver, Wing Fai Chan, 62, passed on yellow no-passing lines before the crash and this lack of appreciation should be part of a suite of education measures aimed at overseas drivers.

Crerar also called for stats on road crashes per 1000 kilometres to be collected - something the NZ Transport Agency is working on.

Dunedin district court judge Michael Turner also kicked off, saying during a hearing for 41-year-old Belgian Michel Leroux, who caused a smash injuring five people on the Te Anau-Milford Highway on December 8.

Judge Michael Turner says care less driving charges are far too common and “deterrance may need to be given greater effect for offending of this type”.

NZTA southern region boss Jim Harland says signage, rumble strips, no-passing lines, “keep left” arrows and other safety works are recommended by safety engineers because international research suggests they make a difference where drivers don’t speak English as a first language.

Harland says crashes involving foreign drivers remained constant over the last decade while international visitors coming to NZ have increased by about a quarter.

Associate Transport Minister Craig Foss says the government wants to make NZ roads safer and reduce the number of people injured and killed in crashes.

There are now more than 200 kilometres of both centre and edge line rumble strips in Otago, Southland and the West Coast - with more improvements due next year.

The government’s still against mandatory driver testing for tourists. Some rental companies pro-actively test drivers.

Rental Vehicle Association boss Barry Kidd says its members are tearing up the contracts of bad drivers and putting them on a blacklist.

“That’s happening every week in Queenstown.

“At this time of year there’s probably more than 100,000 rental vehicle contracts a month - and the people you’re focusing on are the three or four a week who maybe come to the attention of the media and police.”

Earlier this month, the NZTA announced a further $25m to be spent on road safety initiatives.