Stranger danger on our roads

Last updated 05:00 14/03/2014

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OPINION: It wouldn't be easy to look 9-year-old Sean Roberts in the eye and start trying to explain to him that the thing about his dad's death, see, is that New Zealand signed this United Nations convention . . .

Sean's father, Grant Roberts, was one of two motorbike riders, homeward bound from the 2012 Burt Munro Challenge, who were killed by a tourist driver who over-corrected when his car hit roadside gravel.

The driver wasn't the worst guy in the world, but he had arrived in New Zealand only the day before the crash and was horribly ill-prepared for our driving conditions.

As Sean sees it, drivers coming to our country should have to pass a test, otherwise "people are just going to keep getting hurt".

The young man's not alone in those views.

But as the authorities remind us, New Zealand is a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Road Traffic which allows drivers in any of the signed-up countries to drive in any of the other signed-up countries, for up to 12 months without further testing being required.

The agreement, seen from a broad international perspective, makes good sense. It's nice and uniform and could scarcely be more straightforward.

Trouble is, the same thing cannot be said for the driving conditions, or the road rules, in the different countries. And tourists coming here haven't been recalibrating with anything like as much reliability, diligence or success as we would wish.

District Court judges have have been joining - you couldn't even say fanning - the chorus of lamentations to this effect. And some of the cases described in court have been appalling. Like the Indian tourist in February clocked doing 160kmh and crossing the centre line at least 20 times between Queenstown and Milford Sound.

Another said he was told New Zealand and India had the same road rules. Apparently, Indian rules had no problem with passing a tanker on a solid yellow line while speeding around a blind corner.

The percentage of fatal crashes in New Zealand involving drivers with an overseas licence rose from 0.3 per cent in 1998 to 6.4 per cent last year. Police, NZ Transport Agency, the Ministry of Transport and others are considering a strategy. Let's be finding out more about that.

Meanwhile, there's some pleasing pro-activity from the Chinese consulate, which is putting a skills and tips pamphlet specifically for Chinese citizens to read when they pick up rental cars. Kudos for that.

But many will still side with Sean and say the strategy should go beyond brochures and involve some testing.

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Quite apart from the not-inconsiderable matter of giving the flick to an agreement to which we signed up, and being seen as fiercely bureaucratic tourist destination, the problems of establishing a meaningful test that people could undertake in a timely fashion would be huge.

But as the carnage continues it becomes harder and harder to accept that we shouldn't be coming up with something a tad more consequential than a helpful brochure.

We don't let people sit on juries without making them watch a DVD on how to do it. But we do let them climb into a high-performance rental, toss a brochure in the glovebox, and head off down our winding roads into our oncoming traffic.

- The Southland Times

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