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Time to restrict tourist car rentals, but govt terrified of offending China — safety campaigner

Many tourists are not capable of driving safely on our roads, says the car review website

Editor Clive Matthew-Wilson, who is an outspoken road safety campaigner, says: “Many overseas tourists using international driver’s licenses end up killing innocent people in road crashes.  Under our treaty obligations, the government can’t stop most international drivers using our roads. However, the government needs to make it much harder to get behind the wheel of a rental car in this country.”

But Prime Minister and Tourism Minister John Key says there's no need to toughen up rental car rules for tourists despite two fatal crashes over the holiday weekend involving foreigners.

Four people have been killed over the Queen's Birthday weekend in two separate fatal car accidents involving foreign tourists.

One was driving a campervan that allegedly crossed the centreline and killed an Auckland woman in the Coromandel; the other a driver who allegedly ran a stop sign in Canterbury, killing a Sumner woman, her daughter and her daughter's friend.

Should pass online test first
Mr Matthew-Wilson believes the government should ban overseas travellers from renting cars until they have first passed an online driving test.

“There is already an online test available, but it’s optional, and I doubt it will really separate those who should and shouldn’t be using our roads.”

He adds, “Tourists can rent a vehicle at the airport after a twelve hour flight. This is crazy. No one can drive safely after a twelve hour flight from a different time zone.”

The motoring editor believes intersections on major roads should have multi-language signs saying something like: “Keep left — look right.”

Scared of offending China
Mr Matthew-Wilson claims the government is scared of taking decisive action on the issue.

“Pro-business governments tend to be very reluctant to take any steps that will restrict the rights of businesses such as car rental firms," The editor says.

"Also, the government is terrified of offending countries like China. The end result of the government’s inaction is a large number of unnecessary road deaths.”

Accident rate consistent with locals — PM
Speaking from Samoa, where he is on an official visit, Mr Key told media, "If you look at the accident rate of tourists who come and drive in New Zealand versus New Zealanders themselves, it's pretty consistent. They're about the same accident rate per capita. So I don't think that's a big issue."

There were a number of working groups looking at the issue.

"Increasingly, the rental car companies and also some airlines are playing proactive role in trying to improve driver education and I think there will be a couple of groups established to ensure we're doing everything we can," Mr Key said.

"We do need to recognise that some of our roads are quite difficult terrain for people who may be inexperienced drivers. Lindis Pass in the middle of winter, that's tough terrain for any driver, let alone someone who might not be experienced driving in those conditions."

Mr Matthew-Wilson is not impressed by the PM's comeback.

"The Prime Minister is in a deliberate state of denial," he tells NBR.

"Around Queenstown and Southland, tourists make up a quarter of the road toll and John Key says there's not a problem."

What do you think? Should tourists be banned from driving in New Zealand?  Click here to vote in our subscriber-only business pulse poll.

Comments and questions

Road deaths aren't caused by foreign tourists alone. However, in some specific areas their driving is a significant problem. (Ask any of the Central Otago locals.) Key's attempts to talk away this problem and to take sensible and measures to proven further deaths is inexcusable.

Around Queenstown tourists may make up 25% of the road toll but they also make up 50% of the population.

Nothing like a bit of sensationalism to start the week though ;o)

Where is the proof that foreign drivers are the disproportionate killers on NZ roads?

What is it with some New Zealanders and China these days? Almost every conceivable ills of New Zealand these days are blamed on China in one way or the other.

Stooping to use race or another country as a rallying point is the domain of widow cheating scoundrels.

Having worked with rentals for years now I can say without hesitation that people driving on Chinese licences are significantly more likely to crash than Kiwis or Aussies. 10x more likely in fact, last time the statistics were officially analysed at the business I work(ed) for. This includes all accidents though whether they be minor bumper scrapes or total write-offs. I also note that the only fatalities I have ever dealt with were all Chinese license holders.

Sorry to burst your bubble... Though in fairness there are other nationalities with similar % crash statistics - just not the same raw volume.

And lastly most people are referring to Chinese 'license holders' - not the Chinese race.

And the cases you deal with represent how many % of road fatalities?

2 tomatoes do not a salad make.

Why is the suggestion only limited to rental cars? Chinese can't drive safely whether it's a rental or any vehicle. Most of them don't even have NZ licences or licences in their own name.

Surely a basic familiarisation test with New Zealand road rules would be a no-brainer for anyone coming into New Zealand and renting a car. It keeps everyone safer and makes sure that the driver understands the rules. Even if it's a test in the tourist's own language.

The best way would be for Insurers of the rental companies to require the test to be passed in order to provide cover for the vehicles they are renting.

Perhaps coupled with the inability to rent a vehicle without first completing the test?

One of the crashes involved the tourist driving through a stop sign - that is an international symbol - no need for a test for that.

One of the crashes involved an 16 year old international student (not a tourist) who didn't have a license. Pretty clear you need a license - no need for a test for that. Note: she was an unlicensed driver in a 300hp sports car and lost control in the wet - looks like she was fitting in to NZ yoof culture pretty well.

I recall, back in the 70's, most rental cars were "speed governed" to legal limits. Very frustrating if one wanted to pass slow vehicles but it did keep speeds down, especially on those South Island straight roads.

A Governance group is expected to be formed within weeks to develop a project aimed at improving road safety for tourist drivers. The decision follows a meeting in Queenstown yesterday. Changes are expected within three years. About 45 people representing 15 agencies, including the New Zealand Transport Agency, ACC, New Zealand Police, the Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes district councils, Destination Queenstown, the Ministry of Transport, Tourism New Zealand and rental car companies attended the meeting. It is the first step in a three to five-year project, designed to lower the number of tourists involved in serious or fatal crashes on New Zealand roads. The Government's Safer Journeys strategy 2010-2020 plans to guide improvements to road safety, aiming for safer roads with fewer deaths or serious injuries. It also introduces the ''Safe System'' to New Zealand, recognising while mistakes are inevitable, deaths and serious injuries from road crashes are not. NZTA spokeswoman Lisa Rossiter, of Wellington, told the Otago Daily Times yesterday while the New Zealand road toll was decreasing, when it came to fatal and serious crashes involving overseas drivers ''the line is basically flat''. 1/5/2014

We need stronger reinforcement of the need to 'Look right, then left, then right again'. That's the greatest risk for drivers and pedestrians who are used to cars driving on the right and who step out or drive into an intersection after first checking the wrong way. I have had a couple of close calls on the same basis when in the USA in the past, when I have forgotten to look left instead of right. As to driving after a 12-hour flight, that has to depend on the circumstances. It's much easier with GPS; the driver may be experienced at driving on the left; and the driver may be going straight to a local hotel. I did it myself in Canada 3 weeks ago after travelling 38 hours, and I have done it in the past when arriving at LAX. It depends on whether I have slept on the flight. Let's not get overly paternalistic here.

When I was on a sailing tour through the Croatian Islands, a group of Kiwis that was on the same boat crashed two scooters. They paid the exorbitant 'repair' fee since they didn't want the police involved, especially since it was clear to all they had been drinking.

I am sure plenty of Kiwis crash while driving overseas - a test isn't going to change anything.

So how is it that the "Chinese" get pulled into this when the two fatal accidents involving tourists involved a Dutch tourist (for the stop sign) and a tourist of unknown nationality (the campervan)?

This whole thing is a media beat-up storm in a teacup. NZ licence drivers have crossed the centre line, and NZ licence-holders have run stop signs (not to mention red lights and give way signs)
How about giving South Africans (for example) a turn at being the Bad Guys. For no particular reason.

I regularly hire rental cars overseas based on my NZ licence under the various treaties that exist. Presume all the complainants on this article either never travel overseas, or would be happy trying to pass foreign tests which are generally much harder than ours! Wake up, accidents happen and as tragic as they are, the percentage attributable to tourists is not as great as drunk locals!!

Given the average standard of driving exhibited by local drivers, it's a wonder that overseas jurisdictions allow NZ'ers to drive overseas at all.

Especially in Europe where the average 130km/h plus speed on autoroutes and autobahns demands levels of skill, attention and attitude far beyond what a significant proportion of drivers display daily - many of these jurisdictions operate on zero blood alcohol and the licencing regime is more stringent than ours (despite the hand wringing and tears from learners who appear to blame everyone else for their own lack of skill, attention and attitude).

A Dutch tourist kills three and it's the Chinese's fault. Wonderful!!!!

As I will be driving in the US in a month, I must demand a driving test on arrival. Oh, sorry! Only being mooted for Asians arriving in NZ.

At best, perhaps there should be a stand down period of, say, 12 hours after arrival. Visitors can gain some impression of driving conditions.

Much as the Police try to impose further restraints on New Zealanders, it has to be conceded that you can't regulate against stupidity. Or people determined to break the law of roads and common sense.

I think it's been pretty obvious for some time that John Key won't have a word said against anything to do with the word Chinese... even to the extent of trying to put up a smokescreen in the face of very definite evidence that Communist Chinese hackers, very probably government-backed. are illicitly gathering information from us, from Australia, and wherever they spy to seize useful information.

It was ludicrous and shameful to hear Key suggesting we shouldn't jump to conclusions about it being Chinese hackers - the evidence was there!

Why is our Prime Minister bending over backwards to look the other way?

Why doesn't he want to know about the house-buyng sprees, the buying up of our assets, our houses, our businesses, our land ( not just by the Chinese of course) . But the big exodus from China is causing other countries to take sensible steps to prevent their own countrymen's interests from being harmed.

Not John key. He is costing us all.

Is it that he thinks he is far enough ahead to win the election anyway, so is taking a gamble - after all?

Flaming heck Cassandra when was it proven the culprits this weekend were Asian? As a Labour /Greens supporter you need 2 things - (1) good luck at the next elections and (2) to understand that this thread is about overseas car drivers in NZ in rentals - not just a general beat up from xenophobes like you

Haha - the classic posting telling more about the poster than anything else.

Poor ole Cassandra - Alice in Wonderland.

I was wondering when xenophobic Cassandra will show up with her tunnel vision xenophobic views on China / Chinese buying of our assets, land and houses.....if you want to sway voters to Labour or Greens , or to agree with your xenophobic views, the readers here are a lot more intelligent than you. Perhaps try a more reasoned and articulate approach, and less of a angry "we have been hard done by National and the Chinese" might work better.

What about after overnight flights on Friday from Asia dont let the Chinese leave the AKL Airport because they buy houses at auctions and may be tired

I can't believe that NZ'ers are actually promoting the restriction of other nationalities using our roads during their stay here.
Apart from economic suicide (our tourist industry relies on people being able to transport themselves given the mediocre public transport across the vast majority of the country), the reality is that we have some of the worst drivers in the world.
Am I seriously the only one who has had to endure a stream of ignorant and asleep at the wheel drivers who insist on getting out into the fast lane at all costs on motorways with little or no traffic in the two inside lanes ??
Wake up NZ - our driving is nothing to feel confident about and to be beating up on other nationalities who visit our shores is just plainly hypocritical.

One of my work colleagues partner is from the Phillipines and rather than sitting her drivers licence she bought it (in the Phillipines). Yup, no test at all simply bought one. Wonderful woman but can't back down the drive without crashing.

The sheer ignorance of no-doubt National Party supporters above should have us all concerned - if it's matched by equal ignorance on the part of the public.

Silly comments don't replace the facts - try checking out the huge exodus by Communist Chinese- and ask yourself where they're going.

And don't bray "racist". I have good Chinese friends very concerned at what is happening to this country - and no; I'm not left wing - just much better informed than the ever-so-brave "Anonymous", etc.