Campaign to cut crashes

An eight-week trial of safety tags designed to give tourists visual cues on lower South Island roads was launched in Queenstown yesterday.

The Government Safer Journeys project worked with the New Zealand Transport Agency, the Rental Vehicle Association and tourism operators to develop the tags and information cards aimed at reducing the number of crashes and deaths involving overseas drivers.

Twenty thousand tags will be attached to the steering wheels of rental vehicles in Queenstown during the trial and cards will be available in hotels and motels.

If successful, the tags - which display visual cues on seatbelts, speed, overtaking and keeping left - will be distributed nationally and multi-lingual tags could also be introduced.

Agency southern regional director Jim Harland said overseas licence holders accounted for one quarter of crashes involving serious injury or death on rural roads in the lower South Island since 2009.

The agency would survey tourists who picked up a rental car with a steering wheel tag during the trial, he said.

"All of us when we drive make mistakes. It doesn't matter whether you're from Auckland or Shanghai. It's important for [the tags] to be visual and represent what drivers actually see."

Rental Vehicle Association chief executive Barry Kidd said the tags were designed to improve driver safety and increase safety for the public.

"It's about keeping the community safe from unsafe drivers, or those who are ignorant of the law or choosing to ignore it. The vast majority [of overseas licence holders] who rent or buy interact without creating any problems."

Tourism Industry Association chief executive Chris Roberts said it was not a new issue but statistically crash rates were higher in the lower South Island.

"It's great the rental companies are taking the initiative, but less than half of visitor drivers involved in serious crashes are in a rental. We have to think how we get education to those people as well."

Queenstown Lakes District Council Mayor Vanessa van Uden said introducing the tags was not just about overseas drivers because plenty of Kiwi drivers were unfamiliar with the region's road conditions.

"We want our visitors to come here and have a great time and be safe. It's quite an exciting day for us in terms of kicking the project off and doing something concrete," she said.

The Southland Times