Rental car firms back trials
Trials of a new driver assessment scheme aimed at improving the safety of overseas and New Zealand drivers will start next month.
The move aims to actively address concerns over the safety of visiting drivers and includes actions such as increased screening of driver experience at vehicle pick up, more pre-arrival information about New Zealand driving conditions, and trialling more information-sharing between rental vehicle operators about visitors whose contracts have been cancelled.
The development of the new Code of Practice for rental vehicle operators follows agreement among the leaders of about 25 rental vehicle companies representing most of the cars and campervans hired to international visitors in New Zealand.
The trial, which begins in June, will focus on ensuring the proposed assessment questions are fit for purpose and will be done in four languages – English, Mandarin, French and German.
Southern stakeholders have welcomed the move. Tourism Industry Association chief executive Chris Roberts said it was very pleasing the rental vehicle sector was committed to addressing public concerns about visiting driver safety.
‘‘The indications are that we can expect a bumper tourism season next summer, so we want to do all we can to keep both our visitors and New Zealanders safe on our roads,’’ he said.
It was hoped the Code of Practice would be finalised by October in readiness for the 2015-16 peak season.
Rollout of the trial has been met favourably by police and tourism heads in the south, where, according to Ministry of Transport figures, 25 per cent of fatal and injury crashes between 2009 and 2013 involved foreign drivers.
This compared with six per cent nationally.
Venture Southland chief executive Paul Casson said any project to enhance the safety of southern roads could only be positive.
‘‘It will be interesting to see what this assessment will be,’’ he said.
He was aware of some reminders for tourists about road safety already in action.
‘‘Last week I saw a car parked in a Te Anau with a massive green sticker on the dash which said ‘keep left’,’’ he said.
He believed it was critical that more instructions for tourists who drove on our roads came into play, but warned it needed to be easy to understand, and any tests should not be too onerous.
Southern District road policing manager Senior Sergeant Steve Larking said the code of practice was a positive move by rental car operators to make roads safer.
Addressing road safety among foreign drivers has long been an issue in Southland.
Late last year police rolled out Operation Rental which focused on working with car rental companies to educate visitors about southern roads and reduce the number of people driving dangerously.
As part of that operation, 20,000 safety travel tags were trialled in Queenstown that attached to rental car steering wheels.
It provided the visitors with basic road safety messages, such as keeping to the left-hand side of the road.
The trial was considered a success with 70 per cent of drivers saying they found it helpful.
In February, 21 drivers from at least eight countries were caught breaking the law on Fiordland roads in just three hours.
The Code of Practice builds on the extensive work already done to educate visiting drivers on what’s different about driving in New Zealand.