The wa­ters are get­ting a tad mud­died – why?

New Zealand Classic Car - - Contents -

Iwas hav­ing a tidy-up re­cently and dis­cov­ered some boxes of re­search that I had been con­duct­ing on road ac­ci­dents and tourist driv­ers. The rea­son for the tidy-up was be­cause there has been, yet again, more of­fi­cial ‘de­fence’ of the tourist-/for­eign-driver ac­ci­dent statis­tics. Which is not sur­pris­ing re­ally, as tourism is New Zealand’s main ex­port-dol­lars earner, and of­fi­cial­dom is keen to play down any­thing that might ad­versely af­fect the in­come de­rived from tourism. The most re­cent in­for­ma­tion was cir­cu­lated as a re­sult of yet an­other (wellinten­tioned) pe­ti­tion to gov­ern­ment from the mother of a vic­tim of a tourist driver. Her son, a mo­tor­cy­clist, col­lided with a tourist driver who had ca­reered off the road in front of him only to swerve back into his path again, killing him. While, in this in­stance, the tourist driver was ac­tu­ally sen­tenced to a short term of im­pris­on­ment, when you take into ac­count that any per­son sen­tenced to im­pris­on­ment in New Zealand is able to be re­leased on pa­role after serv­ing just one-third of any sen­tence, then the judge should not have both­ered, in my view.

Usual statis­tics

As is of­ten the case when of­fi­cial­dom leaps to the de­fence of tourism and what it means for New Zealand, the usual statis­tics are trot­ted out; namely, that for­eign driv­ers were re­spon­si­ble for only about six per cent of ac­ci­dents in­volv­ing death, and, shift­ing the blame back onto us Ki­wis, im­ply­ing that New Zealand driv­ers are far worse — be­ing re­spon­si­ble for 94 per cent of ac­ci­dents in­volv­ing death. At face value, that would seem to be fair com­ment. But, as I have said here be­fore, statis­tics can be ma­nip­u­lated to present a com­pletely dif­fer­ent story. Sure, across New Zealand the statis­tics are prob­a­bly around six per cent, but what hap­pens when you iso­late them to the so-called tourist hotspots? If one were to con­fine the scope of ac­ci­dent statis­tics to the tourist hotspots of West­land, Cen­tral Otago, and South­land, then the ac­ci­dent rate climbs alarm­ingly to around 26–33 per cent! For those who are no good with per­cent­ages, that means that be­tween one-quar­ter and one-third of all in­juries/deaths re­sult­ing from ve­hi­cle ac­ci­dents in­volve a for­eign driver! Anec­do­tally, lo­cals in the Te Anau area will con­fess to be­ing too afraid to ven­ture out on the roads down there! (I kid you not!)

And, while we are talk­ing statis­tics, it is mis­chievous to try to re­late tourist-driver ac­ci­dent statis­tics to New Zealand– driver statis­tics, es­pe­cially when you take into ac­count the num­ber of miles cov­ered (OK, I mean kilo­me­tres!). The av­er­age dis­tance trav­elled by a New Zealand mo­torist is ap­prox­i­mately 12,000km per year. Some vin­tage-car / mo­tor­cy­cle in­sur­ance poli­cies al­low an an­nual mileage of be­tween 3000km and 6000km per an­num. What needs to be re­mem­bered, how­ever, is that tourists are not here for 12 months — they are here for a few days/weeks, thus the dis­tances they travel have to be taken into ac­count when de­cid­ing who poses the big­ger risk. What is also over­looked in th­ese de­bates is to equate the dis­tance trav­elled with the num­ber of ac­ci­dents. I have pre­vi­ously re­lated one of my ex­pe­ri­ences with tourists dur­ing an early morn­ing mo­tor­cy­cle ride to Akaroa — a favourite for two-wheeled afi­ciona­dos. While round­ing a blind left­hand cor­ner, I en­coun­tered a large camper­van (or ‘mag­got’, as Billy Con­nolly refers to them, be­cause from the air they look like mag­gots on the land­scape), which was parked di­ag­o­nally across the road block­ing both lanes. The Ger­man driver and pas­sen­gers had dis­em­barked and were tak­ing photos of the ad­ja­cent lake! For­tu­nately, I had been go­ing slow enough to be able to get past the back of the camper­van, be­tween the road shoul­der and the ve­hi­cle, where­upon I stopped and gave them spe­cific direc­tions back to the air­port. Hav­ing got to Akaroa safely (and done some shop­ping for more un­der­gar­ments!), I had just left the set­tle­ment and was climb­ing the hill out of Akaroa when that same Ger­man camper­van driver, hav­ing pulled into a lay-by on my side of the road, looked straight at me — then pulled out in front of me!

Ac­ci­dent data

In 2015, it was re­ported that over­seas driv­ers were in­volved in at least 558 crashes that re­sulted in death or in­jury. When you drop the in­jury statis­tics off, the num­bers do not look all that bad. Fur­ther, the New Zealand Trans­port Agency fig­ures only cap­ture data on about twothirds of in­jury crashes, so that means that, in 2015, more than 800 tourist driv­ers could have been in­volved in in­jury/death crashes that year! A fur­ther prob­lem is that when crash data are be­ing gath­ered on tourist driv­ers, not just those in rental cars need be iden­ti­fied, but, rather, all tourists (in pri­vately owned ve­hi­cles), stu­dents, vis­i­tors, and im­mi­grants driv­ing on du­bi­ous over­seas li­cences. Re­mem­ber, too, that, down here in the South Is­land, the po­lice had in­structed its staff not to dis­close to me­dia the na­tion­al­ity of the driver(s) in­volved. Why? I would have thought that if the per­cent­age of them was so minis­cule, then iden­ti­fy­ing the na­tion­al­ity of the driver would put this ar­gu­ment to bed once and for all!

Driv­ing test

Sug­ges­tions have been made for some kind of test for driv­ers to pass be­fore they can rent a car. The lat­est call is for those for­eign na­tion­als here for longer than three months to have to pass some kind of driv­ing test. I would agree with that, as the cur­rent sys­tem of rec­og­niz­ing an over­seas li­cence as proof of driv­ing com­pe­tency — es­pe­cially when one looks at the coun­try of ori­gin of said li­cence and it be­comes doubt­ful whether its pos­ses­sor has ever been be­hind the wheel of any kind of ve­hi­cle be­fore! At the very least, there should be a com­pul­sory 24-hour stand-down pe­riod after ar­rival in New Zealand be­fore you are al­lowed to get be­hind the wheel of your rental. How you would po­lice this for free­dom campers who swap ve­hi­cles at the air­port, I don’t know, but a check of their plane tick­ets would be a good start.

And let’s stop ma­nip­u­lat­ing the statis­tics. If some 800 for­eign driv­ers (or more) have been in­volved in in­jury/death ac­ci­dents in the short space of time that they have been in this coun­try, then (to para­phrase the crew of the Apollo 13 moon flight) ‘Hous­ton, we have a prob­lem!’

So, what if some com­pany loses a few hun­dred/thou­sand dol­lars of tourist in­come? Aren’t a few lives worth that? At the mo­ment, all that is hap­pen­ing is lip ser­vice. The tech­nol­ogy ex­ists al­ready in mod­ern ve­hi­cles to alert the driver (and the rental com­pany!) as to when the ve­hi­cle crosses the cen­tre line. My sug­ges­tion would be for the ad­di­tion of some au­di­tory in­di­ca­tion — like alpine air horns sound­ing! I mean, we al­ready have those an­noy­ing re­vers­ing ‘beep’ thin­gies, so why not some­thing for in­di­cat­ing when you’ve crossed the line — lit­er­ally? Or, bet­ter yet, if the ve­hi­cle crosses the cen­tre line more than three times in one mon­i­tored trip, then the GPS / satel­lite nav­i­ga­tion sys­tem kicks in and im­mo­bi­lizes the ve­hi­cle forth­with. Then the nice high­way-pa­trol po­lice can turn up and is­sue the ap­pro­pri­ate tick­ets, no­tify the rental com­pany as to where they can up­lift their ve­hi­cle from, con­fis­cate the driver’s keys, and call them a taxi — which would be a way bet­ter re­sponse than to call them some of the names I have! Hey, it’s an idea! Drive safe, and on the cor­rect side of the road.

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