Confessions of a tourist driver


OPINION: I almost killed someone.

The thought is so shocking to me I still have trouble processing it.

In Queenstown you can name them all; the local people whose lives have been snuffed out by those reckless tourist drivers, who we know only arrived in Aotearoa a few hours earlier, then went on a mission which ended up killing our friends, our mothers, husbands, lovers and children.

They were gone, in a heartbeat. And why? For the tourist dollar.

I’m now on the other side of the globe and one of those tourist idiots, cruising the American mega-highways. Having lived in the United States for nine months now, with over 3500 miles under my belt, I felt confident I had this whole driving-in-a-foreign country thing, in the bag. But then it happened.

First came the terrible crunching of metal. The motorhome I was driving lurched horrifically. It was night-time and I actually didn’t even see what hit me.

I pulled to the side and looked around for another driver, but no car was anywhere to be seen. I stood in disbelief. The damage to my vehicle left me extremely worried. If mine looked like this, what situation was the other person in?

Then came the unmistakable flashing of red and blue lights of the LAPD.

It was only then I got a look at the guy I could have killed. He was good-looking, probably of Latin origin, and someone’s son, brother, husband, friend. A real living human being. And thank the Lord he was still alive. But I was very shaken.

He attested I had side-swiped him because I was driving on the opposite side of the road. His face was ashen. I have no way to prove I didn’t do as he said. But I actually don’t remember being on the wrong side of the road at all.

We say in New Zealand that foreign drivers should be subjected to a test and a stand-down period and various other measures as a way to halt the terrible loss of lives these crashes cause.

But I’m not so sure it’s that simple. I’d been driving on the other side of the road for nine months. I’d even taken a few lessons, to help with my confidence. In the end, my mind reverted to memory.

I think a test is a good idea and the stand-down is, too. But in high-impact tourist areas like Queenstown, we must go further. I believe road design has to change. Median barriers. Wider roads with verge-separated lanes.

All that costs money and we are a small nation. But how much is a life worth?

We also can’t forget that Kiwi drivers have crashes too. Driving is still the single most dangerous thing most humans participate in every day.

Better road design has always been the biggest contributor to saving lives on roads and we must, as a nation, ask ourselves if we are prepared to spend the money to do it.

Steve Wilde’s been a long-time local who’s now driving around the world in a 1978 GMC Motorhome