By GUY WILLIAMS
The adequacy of a ‘Drive Safe’ form filled out by a German tourist at a Queenstown rental car company hours before her death in a horror crash near Dipton in 2017 has been slammed by a coroner.
Marina Liebl, 22, and Southland couple Jesse and Samantha Shortland, died in the crash, while their children Heath and Skylar, then aged two and eight months respectively, survived.
In his report on the crash, released yesterday, coroner David Robinson says fatigue and excessive speeds by both drivers are largely to blame.
But the form completed by Liebl at Thrifty Rentals Queenstown on the morning of the
October 8 crash was ‘‘wholly inadequate’’, he says.
Rental Vehicle Association (RVA) chief executive Pim Borren tells Mountain Scene it
initiated a ‘Safer Driver’ programme several years ago, of which the form filled out by Liebl
is a component.
Borren says he read the coroner’s report before its public release, and the association’s
taking its recommendations ‘‘very seriously’’.
‘‘We’ll review them with the RVA council, and we’ll look to see if we can do more.
“We’re constantly looking at quality improvements, and if there’s criticism, we’ll take it on board.’’
In her form, Liebl stated she was familiar with New Zealand road rules, that she was a regular driver in her home country, that she felt well prepared to drive in NZ, and that she’d driven a similar vehicle before.
But it was her first time driving on the left-hand side of the road.
Robinson’s calling for car rental companies to introduce ‘‘qualitative assessment’’ into the process for deciding whether to rent a vehicle to an overseas driver.
A qualitative assessment could include, for example, delving deeper into their driving
experience and asking questions around other factors, like when they last slept or consumed alcohol.
At present, Robinson says, there’s ‘‘no effective evaluation of the person’s ability to
drive in NZ, nor of their knowledge of the road rules’’.
In an emailed statement, a Thrifty spokeswoman says the company follows the RVA’s Safer Driver guidelines, and since reading the coroner’s report, has been discussing with the association how the form could be improved to better assess customers’ driving ability.
‘‘We take the the coroner’s recommendations very seriously, and will be working with the NZ government, RVA and other car hire companies to reassess processes that are designed to keep domestic and international customers safe.’’
Borren says the whole purpose of the association is to encourage best practice by its
members in order to maintain customers’ confidence in their services.
But the only legal obligation for renting out a vehicle in NZ is to sight a valid overseas
driver licence, and not all rental car companies — particularly smaller operators — use the association’s programme, he says.
If the government makes those legal requirements more stringent, such as requiring overseas visitors to undergo a practical driving test, NZ’s reciprocal arrangements with other countries will be affected, and Kiwis renting vehicles in many countries overseas will also have to take such tests.
Concerns about poor driving by overseas visitors has been a hot issue in the resort for
A 2015 online petition calling for mandatory testing of tourist drivers who don’t speak English or who hail from right-hand-drive countries got more than 12,000 responses.
That idea was revived by retired resort businessman Stanley Gyles in January with an
unsuccessful campaign to require all international visitors who drive on the right-hand side to pass a simulator competency test before they can drive in NZ.
In his report, Robinson says both drivers — Liebl and Jesse Shortland — were travelling
long distances ‘‘ill suited to being done in a single day’’.
The Shortlands were on their way home from Hokitika, after attending the funeral of
They left about about nine hours before the crash.
A scene examination showed Liebl had crossed into the other lane for unknown reasons, and her car was travelling at 134kmh five seconds before impact.
The Shortlands’ car was estimated to be travelling at 119kmh.