Tourists' driving appalling - judge

NEIL RATLEY AND LAUREN HAYES
Last updated 05:00 18/02/2014

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An Indian tourist clocked doing 160kmh and crossing the centre line at least 20 times on a southern road highlights the ongoing battle faced by authorities trying to get foreigners to drive to New Zealand conditions, a district court judge says.

The "appalling" driving was one of five incidents, including four crashes, involving foreign drivers in the Fiordland area on Saturday.

Vinay Aggarwal, 28, was caught on a police speed camera travelling at more than 160kmh between Queenstown and Milford Sound.

Aggarwal admitted a charge of dangerous driving when he appeared in the Invercargill District Court yesterday.

Judge Raoul Neave fined him $1000 and disqualified him from driving in New Zealand for 12 months.

His behaviour highlighted the growing issue of tourists driving in New Zealand, unaware of the necessary standards required on the roads, Judge Neave said.

The court was told Aggarwal crossed the centre line at least 20 times while trying to pass a line of traffic, and would have hit an oncoming vehicle if he had not swerved at the last minute.

He had been warned by police earlier in the day about his driving and speed.

Aggarwal's driving was appalling and utterly unacceptable in New Zealand, Judge Neave said.

Jian Shen, 58, of Hong Kong, also appeared and pleaded guilty to two charges of careless driving causing injury, after crossing the centre of the road while travelling around a blind corner and smashing into an oncoming vehicle.

A woman travelling in the other car lost four teeth and suffered a facial fracture, while Shen's mother-in-law broke her arm.

He was disqualified from driving for six months and ordered to pay $500 emotional harm reparation.

Constable Dwight Grieve, of the Southern Highway Patrol, said after the court appearances it was "very very frustrating" to have to keep stopping tourists who were breaking the law on popular southern tourist routes.

"These people are not bad people but they appear to be driving to their home conditions and not adapting to New Zealand roads and driving standards," he said.

The issue appeared to be getting worse. New Zealand was attracting visitors from countries whose driving cultures and standards were very different, and many tourists were also driving high-performance rental cars, he said.

Most foreign drivers pulled up adjusted their driving after being spoken to, but unfortunately some did not heed the warning and risked the lives of other road users, Mr Grieve said.

Southern residents, especially from Te Anau, had adjusted their driving to accommodate tourists on the road, he said.

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Figures released by the NZ Transport Agency show the proportion of fatal accidents involving drivers with an overseas licence has increased.

In 1998, 0.3 per cent of fatal crashes nationally involved drivers with an overseas licence, while in 2012 it was 5 per cent.

However, the statistics do not distinguish whether the person involved in a crash while driving on an overseas licence is a tourist or a new resident or migrant.

NZ Transport Agency national media manager Andy Knackstedt said New Zealand was a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Road Traffic, allowing drivers holding a current and valid driver licence from any signatory country to drive in any other signatory country for up to 12 months without further testing in the country being visited.

However, the agency urged tourists and recent arrivals to take advantage of the multi-lingual educational publications and free information available from the its website.

An instructive driving publication was also distributed free to rental companies and the information was also provided to other tourist organisations and government agencies, such as Immigration, to reach longer-term visitors or new immigrants, Mr Knackstedt said.

A police spokesman from the National Road Policing team said the issue of foreign drivers had been identified by the Safer Journeys partners, including police, NZ Transport Agency, Ministry of Transport and others.

A strategy was being considered around the issue, he said.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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