Police told to keep their mouths shut about overseas licence holders
South Island police have been told to keep their mouths shut about foreign drivers involved in crashes.
Officers in the southern police district were told in October not to comment on the "nationality or ethnicity of drivers involved in crashes".
Media guidelines obtained under the Official Information Act show southern road policing manager inspector Tania Baron said police would not initially comment on the nationality or ethnicity of drivers involved in crashes.
The guidelines suggest officers should form "short responses" to media and "refrain from being drawn into comment on overseas licence holders as the initial investigation should be focused on what has happened".
As an alternative to revealing the driver's country of origin police were told to say "the licence status of each driver will form part of our overall investigation, and police are unable to comment at present."
National road policing manager superintendent Steve Greally said it was not a nationwide policy.
However, if a rental car and a foreign licence was found at the crash scene, it did not necessarily mean a tourist was involved. Police needed time to establish that.
Police should initially determine why the crash happened before verifying whether or not the driver was a tourist.
"We don't try to hide that... there's no reason to do that.
"It certainly would be disclosed in the end," he said.
Media commentator Jim Tully said the available facts should be released to journalists as they would likely be relevant to the crash and be in the public interest.
Transport Agency data revealed the percentage of overseas drivers involved in crashes in some South Island locations was much higher than the national average, which was 6 per cent.
Overseas drivers were involved in 27 per cent of fatal and injury crashes in Mackenzie, 25 per cent in Queenstown Lakes, 24 per cent in Southland and 16 per cent in Central Otago.
Tully said "people are entitled to know" the facts.
Police could "simply say this was the nationality on their passport, it was a rental car or campervan.
"That's just factual information and people can potentially reason to that what they choose."
Tully said if the nationality of the driver could be relevant, which seemed more likely when this was a known issue in the southern district, then people had a right to know.
"For decades the police have always released quite a bit of information around accidents... This is a significant departure from that."
He did not understand how direct questions from media would hinder a police investigation.