Foreign drivers factor in crash rise

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Crashes on Queenstown Lakes roads have increased by more than a quarter in two years, while the involvement of overseas drivers has doubled.

Recently updated New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) figures for last year reveal what most of the district’s residents have been saying for at least the past 12 months – the district’s roads are becoming more dangerous. 

The 321 crashes on Queenstown Lakes district roads last year was a 22 per cent increase on 2013’s figures, and a 27 per cent rise from 2012.

Over the same period, the percentage of crashes in which overseas drivers were implicated has risen from 5.5 per cent to 11 per cent.

Eight people died on the district’s roads last year – equal to the previous four years combined.

Last November, in the worst crash seen in the district for years, three Hong Kong tourists were killed when their rental van was struck by a truck and trailer unit near Luggate.

Police commander for the Otago Lakes-Central area, Inspector Olaf Jensen, says overseas drivers, high visitor numbers and challenging roads and road conditions are the major factors in the Queenstown Lakes district’s crash statistics.

A year ago his Queenstown colleague, Senior Sergeant John Fookes, told an inquest that police needed the power to remove drivers they deemed incompetent from the road.

A common factor in crashes and complaints involving overseas drivers, particularly those from China and India, was “the inability of a proportion of these drivers to have proper control of their hired motor vehicle”, Fookes said.

Police could only forbid an individual from driving by arresting them for a qualifying offence, such as dangerous driving, and imposing a bail condition.

Asked if he agrees with Fookes’ comments, Jensen will only confirm that current legislation does not allow police to remove incompetent drivers from the road.

Police are working with rental car companies to have rental contracts “reviewed” when serious driving issues are identified, he says.

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Vanessa van Uden says the rising number of crashes is a concern, but the figures also show that nearly 90 per cent of accidents are caused by New Zealand drivers.

“The police tell us that speed, inattention and failure to drive to the conditions are the most common causes of crashes everywhere.”

Efforts to educate overseas visitors need to continue, but residents need to ”step up and take responsibility for our own driving behaviour”.

NZTA southern region director Jim Harland says fresh analysis of crash data is under way to find out why the number of crashes is continuing to rise in the district: ”where people have been crashing and why”.

”Is it certain nationalities, is it certain times of the day, is it weather conditions, are the roads contributing to it?”We need to understand that more before we can be definitive about our view.”

There has been an increase in self-drive tourists from emerging markets, such as China and India, who are unfamiliar with the New Zealand roads.

Harland: ”Whether that’s the reason for this part of New Zealand and specifically Queenstown, we don’t know.”

He has seen data indicating that Queenstown had 130 per cent more visitors than residents during tourism peak times.

”So inevitably if there’s a crash, the odds of that having an overseas licence holder involved is much greater.” 

The agency is leading the Visiting Drivers Signature Road Safety Project – a raft of recent measures being introduced by police, ACC, rental vehicle companies, accommodation providers, AA, Tourism New Zealand and local councils.

That ”broad-based approach” includes working through more than 150 ideas provided by members of the public.

The involvement of vehicle rental companies in the project shows they are being responsible, Mr Harland says.

”They want to ensure their customers come back safe and advise their friends and relatives that New Zealand is a good place to visit.

”It’s also important from their business perspective that they have safe customers who bring back their vehicle in one piece.”

Otago Daily Times