Deaths ignite driver debate

Last updated 12:58 03/06/2014
John Lacey
MARTIN DE RUYTER/FAIRFAX NZ
LONG ROAD: Daniel Nathan, shown in Nelson Hospital after a camper van driven by a tourist hit his work vehicle , still faces a long recovery.

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A Nelson man, still suffering from injuries inflicted in an horrific crash caused by an overseas driver on the wrong side of the road, is appealing for authorities to heed pleas for changes.

Debate about the driving rights of overseas visitors has reignited after the deaths of 12-year-old Abigail ‘Abi' Ann Hone, her best friend Ella Yasmin Summerfield, 12, and Ella's mother, Sally Vanessa Summerfield, 49, after a Dutch tourist allegedly failed to stop and crashed into the side of their vehicle near Rakaia on Saturday.

A spokesman for the family of Abi Hone says New Zealand authorities need to reconsider rules allowing overseas tourists to drive on the country's roads.

Today in Nelson, Daniel Nathan who was injured in a collision with a campervan driven by an Argentinian near Murchison last year, also renewed his call for more to done to ensure that overseas drivers used to driving on the right-hand side of the road were competent to drive on New Zealand roads.

He made the same plea after his accident but has seen no change.

He said today the authorities seemed reluctant to make changes because of the reciprocal arrangements for New Zealanders driving overseas. "However, we don't get any feedback from overseas on New Zealanders having accidents overseas," he said.

He wants driver education and testing before foreign tourists are allowed to pick up the keys to rental vehicles in New Zealand.

Nathan is still in pain, on morphine, and unable to walk 10 months after the crash and faces more operations on his left leg where the shinbone had not reconstructed.

His right thigh bone had still not mended and had a 3cm gap, but the specialists were concentrating on his left tibia first, he said. He would also need to go to Christchurch for an operation on his left eye as the impact had left some blindness.

In Saturday's crash, Shane Summerfield, 48, who was driving, was flown to Christchurch Hospital with serious injuries. H e was in stable condition in the intensive care unit yesterday.

The 52-year-old Dutch tourist was treated for minor injuries at Ashburton Hospital and would appear in the Christchurch District Court today on three charges of careless driving causing death and one charge of careless driving causing injury.

Sumner local Darren Wright, acting as spokesman for the Hone family, said the crash was "devastating" for the three families involved and their communities.

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Wright said there had been a spate of serious crashes involving tourists and it was time for a discussion about the rules allowing foreign drivers on New Zealand's roads.

He felt authorities also needed to look at the quality of the country's roads, many of which were "very narrow".

Overseas visitors can drive in New Zealand with an international licence, or a country-of-origin licence, if their country is a signatory to a United Nations convention guaranteeing driving rights. Police assistant commissioner Dave Cliff said there would be penalties for Kiwis wanting to drive on their holidays overseas if New Zealand was to step away from that agreement.

NZ Transport Agency figures showed the proportion of fatal accidents involving drivers with an overseas licence had increased from 0.3 per cent in 1998 to 6.4 per cent last year. Cliff said the figures climbed to about 25 per cent in areas where there were more tourists, such as Queenstown Lakes.

Canterbury boy Sean Roberts started a petition calling for tourists to pass a test before driving in New Zealand after his father, Grant, was killed by a foreign driver in 2012.

However, Prime Minister John Key did not believe any changes needed to be made to rules. He saidthe accident rate per capita was about the same for New Zealand drivers and those from overseas, and that the Government preferred to work with rental car companies and airlines to improve driver education.

Road safety campaigner and car reviewer Clive Matthew-Wilson said the Government was scared of taking decisive action on the issue.

Many tourists were not capable of driving safely on New Zealand's roads and "end up killing innocent people in road crashes".

He believed overseas visitors should be banned from renting cars until they passed an online driving test.

- The Nelson Mail

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