Foreign drivers ranked in road tolls

By Allison Hess, Kiri Gillespie

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Nearly 90 serious crashes in the Western Bay of Plenty and Tauranga since 2010 to 2014 have involved foreign drivers.

Figures released by the Ministry of Transport show there were 48 crashes involving overseas drivers in the Western Bay, making up 8 per cent of New Zealand's overall crashes.

In Tauranga there were 39, making up 4 per cent. In total, overseas drivers were involved in 87 crashes where a person was killed or seriously injured.

This did not include the 2012 death of Tauranga biker Dennis "Deano" Pederson who, along with friend Grant John Roberts, was killed when a Chinese tourist crossed the centre line when travelling near Twizel.

The figures also did not include last year's death of Frenchman Nathan Luc Alain Boucher, who died on State Highway 2 at Whakamarama when he swerved to avoid hitting a portable toilet that had fallen from a truck. He collided head-on with another truck.

Of the regions in New Zealand with the most crashes involving a tourist driver, the Western Bay of Plenty ranked 21. Of the list of 22 regions, Tauranga city did not feature.

Auckland had 681 crashes involving overseas drivers, the highest in the country, contributing to 5 per cent overall.

Christchurch and Southland had 192 and 153 crashes respectively, contributing to 5 and 24 per cent.

Transport Minister Simon Bridges said while the issue of foreign drivers and safety was significant, across the country the percentage of crashes involving foreign drivers was small.

However, he said the Government had stepped up its action on the issue, including more funding for road improvements and educating tourists both on the plane and once they arrived.

Mr Bridges cited examples of roading projects, including the recently announced $520 million package for Tauranga, as a way to make New Zealand roads more forgiving.

National operations manager for road policing Peter McKennie said concerns about foreign drivers were less than what people thought they were.

"The number of crashes involving foreign drivers isn't increasing despite the number of visitors to New Zealand going up."

He said a lot of work was being done by police and across the tourism and transport sectors to make people aware of the differences of driving in New Zealand. "There's so much more information out there."

Mr McKennie said overseas drivers were used to driving in major cities at relatively low speeds, and in congested traffic, and were faced with relatively open roads when driving here.

NZ motorway networks were also largely undivided, so drivers had to concentrate a lot more on making sure they stuck to their side of the road.

Overseas drivers could drive for a maximum period of 12 months from the date of arrival to New Zealand.

Licence-holders from Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom or the United States do not have to sit a theory or practical test to get a New Zealand licence.

Four of these countries are in the top six countries in terms of the nationality of foreign drivers involved in crashes.

AA motoring affairs general manager Mike Noon said in a previous article that many driving incidents involving foreign drivers arose after they had left a rest area or an intersection.

"It then becomes more difficult to correct or realise when there's not a lot of traffic to guide you, and that is why roads with less traffic are more difficult for those drivers.

"When there is a lot of traffic it's then much easier because you can see because there are other cars," Mr Noon said.

Road culture different, says instructor

BOP Driving School owner and instructor Jeroen van der Beek said drivers must remember that driving situations in New Zealand were vastly different to those in other countries.

"It goes both ways, too. For example, if you were to put me in New Delhi to drive, it would be unsafe, even as a driving instructor, to get off the plane and drive," he said.

Jeroen van der Beek.
Jeroen van der Beek.

The road culture between countries was so different, and countries had different standards when it came to obtaining a driver's licence.

"One of my students told me it is possible to purchase your licence in India. It costs 2500 rupees to sit your driver's test or for 5000 rupees you can buy a licence, they told me," Mr van der Beek said.

He said he had overseas licence-holders coming to him to have lessons, citing an American man who had a one-hour session to adjust to driving on the other side of the road.

"The sad thing is, the people who do that probably aren't the ones you need to worry about."

Overseas licence-holders:

* Between 2010 and 2014, 5.7 per cent of all fatal and injury crashes in New Zealand involved an overseas licence-holder.

* The top six countries in terms of the number of drivers in crashes are Australia, Germany, UK, China, India and the United States. Combined, these six countries contribute over half (55 per cent) of the overseas drivers in crashes.

* About three-quarters of overseas licence-holders in crashes (78 per cent) are short-term visitors to New Zealand, 13 per cent are overseas students and 9 per cent are migrants.

* At a national level, over half (58 per cent) of overseas licence-holder crashes are on the open road but the pattern varies markedly between regions. For the West Coast and Southland regions, about 90 per cent of crashes are on the open road. The comparable figure for Wellington and Auckland is 34 per cent.

* About a third of at-fault overseas licence-holders failed to adjust to New Zealand rules or conditions. This rises to about a half for fatal crashes.

- Ministry of Transport

- Bay of Plenty Times

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