Tourist Driv­ers

Can any­thing prac­ti­cal be done to re­duce the car­nage?

New Zealand Classic Car - - Price On - By: Greg Price Il­lus­tra­tion: Steve Richards The tourists are com­ing!

Hope­fully my regular read­ers (all 27 of them!) sur­vived the hol­i­day pe­riod and had a great time. Un­for­tu­nately, the Christ­mas pe­riod can be a dou­ble-edged sword in that not only are we out there on the roads and trav­el­ling out of our com­fort zones, so too are vis­it­ing tourists. Some of them may not have made it back to their own coun­tries as a re­sult of a car or mo­tor­cy­cle crash. While I don’t want to sound like a stuck record, yet an­other in­quest prior to Christ­mas had the highly re­spected Christchurch Coro­ner, Richard Mcel­rea, call­ing for more re­stric­tions on for­eign tourists be­ing able to rent ve­hi­cles.

As well, in the months lead­ing up to Christ­mas 2014, there was fur­ther com­men­tary from var­i­ous scribes and me­dia, mostly call­ing for a gen­eral tight­en­ing of the rules around li­cens­ing and rental ve­hi­cles.

The Statis­tics

True, the na­tional per­cent­age of fa­tal crashes in­volv­ing tourists is only 2.9 per cent, but when you start look­ing at re­gions — such as South­land — that per­cent­age rises to around 25 per cent. South­land is, of course, a mag­net for tourists both in­ter­na­tional and lo­cal, who head there in droves.

As I have stated pre­vi­ously, tourism is one of New Zealand’s largest ex­port in­dus­tries, sec­ond only to the dairy in­dus­try in terms of for­eign ex­change earn­ings. Tourism di­rectly em­ploys 5.7 per cent of our work­force and in­di­rectly em­ploys a fur­ther 3.1 per cent.

For the year ended March 2013, the to­tal ex­pen­di­ture by in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors was $9.8 bil­lion — up 2.2 per cent on the pre­vi­ous year. Spend­ing by in­ter­na­tional vis­i­tors con­trib­uted 16.1 per cent of New Zealand’s to­tal ex­ports. Th­ese statis­tics show why tourism is in­valu­able to our econ­omy — and ex­plains why we go to such lengths to en­cour­age tourists. Real­is­ti­cally, no one is ever go­ing to ap­ply any re­stric­tions — such as re­quir­ing some prac­ti­cal or the­o­ret­i­cal test to be com­pleted prior to turn­ing over­seas tourists loose on our roads. Re­mem­ber, for­eign na­tion­als from as many as 24 coun­tries (19 of which drive on the other side of the road!) can ‘con­vert’ their over­seas li­cense to a New Zealand one sim­ply by pro­duc­ing their over­seas one.

At no stage does any­one ac­tu­ally es­tab­lish if they can even drive, let alone speak or un­der­stand English.

On the Wrong Side of the Road

Real­is­ti­cally, it is nigh on im­pos­si­ble to drive on the wrong side of the road when ev­ery­one else is on the other side. For ex­am­ple, it is rather dif­fi­cult to drive down Queen Street on the wrong side when ev­ery­one else is com­ing right at you. How­ever, it is com­pletely dif­fer­ent when you are out in less pop­u­lous ar­eas such as Cen­tral Otago, where there is lit­tle other traf­fic on the road. One-lane bridges and lay­bys are the dan­ger spots, mit­i­gated some­what by the white ar­rows on the road to re­mind for­eign­ers which side of the road they should be on, but maybe we need more of th­ese?

As well, tourists are al­ways go­ing to be dis­tracted by the scenery and un­fa­mil­iar sur­round­ings.

So what are the so­lu­tions? I don’t think driver ed­u­ca­tion will work — nei­ther will hav­ing tourists com­plete an on­line test prior to ar­rival in here. How quickly will some­one pro­vide the an­swers so that the ef­fect of the test will be negated? A 24-hour stand down af­ter a long haul flight makes sense, as driv­ing while tired is akin to driv­ing drunk — ac­cord­ing to the Amer­i­can In­sur­ance In­sti­tute for High­way Safety. But how do you po­lice that, if at all?

My thoughts are that Global Po­si­tion­ing Sys­tems (GPS) could be ef­fec­tive here. Some GPS units cur­rently beep you when you are in the vicin­ity of a speed cam­era — could such units be pro­grammed to alert the driver to the fact that they are on the wrong side of the road?

ACC could play a part too. Presently, rental com­pa­nies get a dis­count on their levies if they take rea­son­able steps to en­sure that their renters are com­pe­tent to take to the roads. Pre­sum­ably, with such high crash num­bers none of them will be re­ceiv­ing any dis­counts. Mo­tor­cy­clists are sig­nif­i­cantly pe­nal­ized by huge levies be­cause they are in­volved in too many crashes — de­spite around 80 per cent be­ing caused by fac­tors other than the mo­tor­cy­clist. Fol­low­ing that logic, for­get the dis­counts, rather ACC levies should be raised on all rentals, in­clud­ing camper­vans, to re­flect the ac­tual costs of the crashes by tourists! Watch that pro­posal be­ing kicked for touch by the lobby groups.

What about a sign in the ve­hi­cle that reads, “Keep the cen­tre line to the right of the driver at all times!” Again, not much use if the driver does not speak or un­der­stand English. Re­mem­ber, I have seen many for­eign tourists feign­ing un­der­stand­ing when be­ing briefed by the camper­van renter, when it was patently clear that they had ab­so­lutely no idea what was be­ing said.

Un­for­tu­nately, $9.8 bil­lion dol­lars dic­tates that the prob­lem with for­eign tourists be­ing in­volved in up to 25 per cent of road fa­tal­i­ties (in some ar­eas) is not go­ing to be reme­died any time soon.

In the mean­time, as the Min­istry of Trans­port used to say, “Drive to Sur­vive!”

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