Tourists turn rental cars into killing machines


OPINION: Last Sunday my wife and I held hands and hung our heads.

Beforehand, we told our eldest son, who has just turned 4, that we’d be quiet for a minute.

It was to mark the Christchurch earthquakes, I told him - to remember those who weren’t with us anymore.

When he saw us holding hands, he quietly came over to stand next to us and tenderly took my other hand.

The three of us were in Christchurch during the devastating February 22 2011 earthquake - but we were the lucky ones.

My colleagues were in The Press building in Cathedral Square when the roof collapsed.

Lucy and I were at home with a five-day-old Benji.

We left for Timaru the next morning - realising Christchurch had more important priorities than a couple of first-time parents with a few troubles.

Fast forward to today.

Depending on where you are, earthquakes are a menace you can prepare for.

You can stockpile food and water and get yourself some camp stoves or a BBQ for cooking.

The thing about living in Queenstown is there’s a menace you can’t prepare for - tourist drivers.

Now, I’m not saying tourist drivers have a monopoly on bad driving. I’ve seen plenty of examples of bad driving from locals.

But on a straight piece of highway with good visibility I don’t expect it’ll be a local pulling into oncoming traffic. It certainly wasn’t two Saturdays ago.

A Chinese driver - who refused to give a statement to police - ploughed into an oncoming car, seriously injuring two helpless Brits.

“There’s no real excuse for it, to be honest,” sergeant Blair Duffy said in unusually blunt language at the crash scene.

We keep hearing stories about tourists coming here who don’t drive at home and then hire cars they’re not experienced to handle.

How have the authorities protected us? By putting information tags in some - but not all - Queenstown rental cars.

A few centre-line stakes in the Kawarau Gorge.

They’re also trying to start a bad-driver blacklist, but that’ll take some time to implement.

Well, Queenstown, do you feel safer? Have any of these measures reassured you?

Two South Canterbury lads, Sean and Cody Roberts from Geraldine, started a petition after their father Grant was killed by a foreign driver. This week the petition topped 30,000.

They want foreign drivers to take tests before getting behind the wheel here.

The Automobile Association’s against that.

A couple of weeks ago, its representatives told a parliamentary committee that tourists aren’t over-represented in
fatal crash statistics, and a driving test wouldn’t cut the rate of crashes caused by foreigners.

What are the answers? Rumble strips, direction arrows painted on roads and median barriers, apparently.

Authorities seem to be against taking firm action.

Sure, mandating driving tests might offend some countries, and that might cost us some tourist dollars.

But aren’t safer roads worth it?

These aren’t just tourist roads. Commuters are driving to work. Parents are driving their kids to school.

What if your loved one’s killed in a crash by a rental car killing machine - do you care tourists “aren’t over-represented in the statistics”?

It’s time to tell our politicians they need to act.