Is the price too high?
Last month I wrote querying if anything could be done to reduce the carnage on our roads, especially in relation to past criticism regarding the ability of tourists to disembark a long-haul flight, jump straight into a rental vehicle and head off into the New Zealand road system. Over the recent Christmas break, four more overseas tourists died in three separate crashes in the South Island — in one case the tourists were reportedly speeding before crashing into the railing of a one-way bridge, having only rented their vehicle just minutes earlier.
In one of the worst examples I can recall, one such tourist jumped into a rental car hired from one company and promptly drove it into a ditch in the early hours of the morning, just minutes from the airport. Many incoming tourist flights arrive around midnight in Christchurch, and this fellow, having pranged one rental car, tried to rent another from the same company but was (quite rightly) denied a second vehicle. The same fellow then approached another rental firm, got himself a replacement car and headed off South. A few hours down the road he ignored a compulsory stop sign, and three people were killed in the ensuing crash.
The area where the crash occurred is a much-travelled section of a south Canterbury road, famous for its straightness — also popular for speedsters. The police regularly get their quota of apprehensions just on this section of road alone. I don’t know if this crash featured in the ‘tourist accident’ statistics or not, but it should have. If nothing else, it should have been for no other reason than there needs to be a process for such tourists to be identified and prevented from renting another vehicle, having already had a crash less than four hours after arriving in this country!
On that note, I was pleased to learn that, as part of an NZTA initiative — Visiting Drivers — police can and do confiscate the keys of rental vehicles at the roadside when the drivers have been identified by other motorists, via the *555 contact, as driving dangerously. In fact, since July 2014 police have confiscated the keys to 10 rental vehicles, with the agreement of the rental companies concerned. In each of these instances reports had been received of the drivers carrying out potentially deadly driving manoeuvres, including failure to keep left and high-risk overtaking.
Nationally, tourist-driver at-fault crashes are apparently decreasing — this is not the case in the south, if reports are to be believed. According to a NZ Herald report dated July 7, 2014, nearly 600 crashes nationwide that resulted in injury were caused by overseas visitors! According to NZTA, the West Coast averaged eight deaths and 43 serious injuries on the roads per year over the five years to 2011 — with at least a third of those involving tourists. So, using my fingers and toes for a moment, tourists were involved in just over 33 per cent of death and/or injury crashes on the West Coast alone.
The most recent information I have received is that a proposal has been made that rental vehicles should all be painted a distinct colour. That’ll probably never happen — in the US in the early ’90s, rental vehicles could be identified by their registration plates and they promptly became the target for car hijackings, so the initiative was abandoned. Rental campervans are vulnerable enough now without any additional identification, and I would expect that professional renters such as businessmen and women would not want to be seen driving a bright-pink rental car!
Judging by the statistics and the recent Christmas-holiday roadtoll figures, tourists are still causing crashes, but at last NZTA is working with NZ Police and rental companies to try to lower the crash rate. Hopefully, something concrete will come from the inter-organizational cooperation, and the amount of revenue tourists generate isn’t allowed to interfere with the formulation of potential solutions.