Blame roads, not tourists – victim

Blaze: Sarah Reich's car on fire PICTURE: CLIVE MANNERS-WOOD

A Queenstowner who pulled a tourist away from a burning car says roads need to be changed to accommodate overseas drivers.

Dan Turner, 32, tells Mountain Scene he feels “no anger at all” against German tourist Sarah Reich, 23, who injured him in a head-on crash.

She’s the latest tourist convicted of dangerous driving in Queenstown.

Her car burst into flames after she drove on the wrong side of Malaghans Road and smashed into Turner’s work truck at 6am on August 22.

On Monday, Reich was ordered by a judge to pay Turner $6000.

She perhaps owes him much more after his quick thinking on the day.

Turner doesn’t bear Reich any ill-will for their collective “violent, near-death experience”.

“I’m just glad we’re both alive – there’s nothing worse than having death involved, regardless who’s at fault or not.”

He believes the resort’s roads need to change to accommodate overseas drivers, with cues to remind them where they are.

“Every other corner is a blind corner. The roads weren’t designed for heavy traffic like there is now, especially with more foreign drivers on the roads than locals.

“The [NZTA] need to rip the trees down on blind corners and paint arrows on the roads every couple of 100 metres.

“I’ve seen some screwed-up shit on Malaghans Rd.”

Turner sustained moderate injuries and was hospitalised for three days with severe bruising to his body, swelling to his face, concussion, a grazed hip and other injuries.

He is expected to make a full recovery over time.

Reich was also injured. She’s in a wheelchair and will need knee surgery when she gets home.

New Ministry of Transport statistics show local lives are increasingly at the mercy of overseas drivers – due to the tourism boom.

In the last four years, 146 crashes on Queenstown Lakes roads involved foreign motorists.

That’s 31 per cent of all crashes in the district.

And a fifth of those were in 2016.

On pure numbers, the district is the fourth-worst place in New Zealand.

Percentage-wise, it’s the second-worst behind Westland, where 40 per cent of crashes involve foreigners.

By comparison, nationally it’s only six per cent – rising about one percentage point in 10 years.

Drivers with overseas licences were found to be at fault in around three-quarters of those accidents nationally. There’s no regional breakdown available.

More work needed

Road safety charity Brake boss Caroline Perry supports the improvements made by the Visiting Drivers Project, but says more needs to be done.

“We would like to see far more investment in key safety measures such as median barriers, which are proven to prevent head-on crashes, and in ensuring the speed limits on our rural road network fit the condition of the road.”

She urges rental companies to make thorough checks on drivers’ understanding of road rules, safety, rest periods and the vehicle itself, before handing over the keys.

We’re making progress

NZ Transport Agency southern bigwig Jim Harland says Queenstown’s percentages are skewed by the sheer number of visitors.

Harland, who chairs the Visiting Drivers Project, says: “In the Queenstown area the base population is about 32,000 … but on a peak day you can have 70,000 or so tourists.

“That’s one of the reasons why Queenstown Lakes has a relatively high percentage … there’s a lot more of them on the network than locals at times.”

And, he says, the statistics as a whole are promising as there has only been a small increase in such crashes despite a 45 per cent rise in tourists in 10 years.

“The head-ons are a tragedy for everyone and attract a particular concern because it’s difficult for people to avoid. But research shows most overseas drivers crash for the same reasons as New Zealand drivers.”

Much is being done though, he says, through the $25 million Visiting Drivers Project, including $720,000 to install safety barriers at Windy Point on SH6 towards Kingston.

There are 29 other projects on the books for the multi-organisation response – from ‘keep left’ signs to rumble strips to education programmes.

“The key messages remind people to keep left, roads can be tight, journeys take longer, save overtaking for straight roads, and pull over to take photos.”