South Island black spots for tourist crashes

JOELLE DALLY AND FAIRFAX
Last updated 05:00 08/06/2014

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Foreign drivers cause more fatal and injury crashes in the South Island than the national average - and the West Coast is the worst spot.

After five people were killed during last weekend's Queen's Birthday holiday - four in crashes involving foreign drivers - the country's transport agency has conceded that tourists need more than just an information leaflet before they drive on New Zealand roads.

Sally Rumble, 49, her daughter Ella Summerfield, 12, and Abi Hone, 12, died in a crash near Rakaia after a Dutch tourist allegedly drove through a stop sign last Saturday.

Robyn Eilleen Derrick, 52, of Auckland, died after the vehicle she was in collided with a campervan driven by an overseas tourist that allegedly crossed the centre line near Whitianga last Friday.

New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) safety directions chief adviser Lisa Rossiter said its crash statistics for the past 10 years showed foreign drivers were involved in about 6 per cent of all fatal or injury crashes in New Zealand, and were at fault in about 2 per cent.

In the South Island, they were identified as at fault or partially at fault in 4 per cent of fatal crashes, and 2 per cent of serious or minor injury crashes, figures from 2004 to 2013 provided to The Press show.

The tourist hot spots of Otago and the West Coast fared worst.

A foreign driver was identified as a factor in 13 per cent of fatal crashes on the coast, and 5 per cent of fatal crashes in Otago from 2004 to 2013.

Canterbury was in line with the national average.

Foreign drivers are entitled to drive for up to 12 months using an international licence, or a country-of-origin licence, if that nation is a signatory to a United Nations convention guaranteeing driving rights.

They are not required to sit a test before driving on New Zealand roads.

An NZTA-supplied "What's different about driving in New Zealand?" guide is available at rental car and camper van companies. However, Rossiter said focusing solely on the driver was "not enough".

"We are realistic about the need to do more than provide brochures. If that was enough, we wouldn't be having the tragedies we are having," she said.

The agency has launched a project to focus on "visiting drivers", at the request of Associate Transport Minister Michael Woodhouse.

The initial focus is the lower South Island, encompassing Southland and Otago, where overseas drivers were involved in 10 per cent of injury crashes in the past five years.

Of those, 60 per cent involved only the foreign driver, and they were responsible or partially responsible for 83 per cent.

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For crashes involving a tourist driver and more than one car, the foreign driver was fully or partly responsible two out of three times.

Rossiter said a governance group was to come up with trial options as part of the visiting driver project.

The group would look at ways to improve foreign drivers' awareness of New Zealand driving conditions, encourage tourists to hire safer rental vehicles and propose signage and road improvements.

"The overseas driver is prone to making mistakes, like New Zealanders do, but it is about trying to lessen the impact," Rossiter said.

The pilot project was set down for three to five years, but some trials may be rolled out sooner.

Assistant road policing commissioner Dave Cliff said there was no data to support the stereotype that foreign drivers were worse than New Zealanders.

"Well over 95 per cent of all injury crashes don't involve an overseas driver so it's easy to take a small number of incidents that might indicate a trend but if you look at the long-term data, overseas drivers are a small part of the problem," he said.

- The Press

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