Inexperienced overseas driver factor in fatal crash

By Kaysha Brownlie

4 comments
Rhys Middleton of Tauranga died in a motorcycle accident at Eskdale in Hawkes Bay in February. Photo/supplied
Rhys Middleton of Tauranga died in a motorcycle accident at Eskdale in Hawkes Bay in February. Photo/supplied

Police say a fatal crash earlier this year involving a motorcyclist and a Chinese tourist was a tragic case involving an inexperienced overseas driver.

Supported by her home-stay family, Jieling Xiao, 27, appeared at Napier District Court yesterday where she pleaded guilty to one charge of driving dangerously causing death.

Rhys Middleton, 23, died on February 7 just before 10am when Xiao drove her Toyota Rav in front of the motorcyclist. The pair collided, "effectively launching the motorcycle and the rider in the air", the summary states.

The Tauranga man and his motorcycle landed on the side of State Highway 5 in Eskdale, north of Napier. He died at the scene. Xiao and her passenger were uninjured.

Xiao was in New Zealand on a one-year working visa, due to expire on July 6.

Outside court Senior Constable Cory Ubels said it was a tragic case involving an inexperienced Chinese driver. He said Xiao had her full driver's licence in China for six years. Although she had limited experience driving 100km on single lane rural roads, she was permitted to drive in New Zealand for the year she was visiting.

The summary states Xiao had never driven a vehicle on an open road, rural environment at speeds in excess of 50km/h and by her own admission, "was not a confident driver".

Xiao's explanation was: "On the highway the speed is really fast so sometimes when there is a corner I can't control my speed because I haven't been driving long in New Zealand."

Xiao bought the Toyota Rav a week before the fatal smash and chose to drive herself and a passenger to Waimarama beach the day before the crash. Her passenger told police the defendant failed to slow for corners and turned sharply during that drive.

They set off for Rotorua the next day and were travelling in the same direction as Mr Middleton who was homeward-bound for Tauranga.

People in a car following them told police the speed of Xiao's vehicle was "erratic" and the car was not being driven straight. On two occasions the left wheels of the car crossed the fog line to the left and north-bound lane.

Mr Middleton, along with four other motorcyclists, came up behind the two cars. The first motorcyclists passed without issue, but when Mr Middleton tried to pass, Xiao misjudged a right-hand bend, bearing her Toyota Rav completely out of the lane and off the road.

Witnesses estimated the vehicle to have been about two metres away from the fog line and completely out of north-bound lanes.

Xiao's passenger alerted her to the error so Xiao veered right at a severe angle back into the lane and directly into the path of Mr Middleton's motorcycle as he was completing his passing manoeuvre of the other car and was pulling back into the lane.

"There was no warning to other road users, such as indicators, that the Toyota Rav was re-entering the road and it was completed at such an angle and speed that there was nowhere for the motorcycle to have gone before impact," the summary states.

His brother, Ryan, was among the others travelling home after attending the Bay MC One Night Stand motorcycle event the day before. Their father, Mike Middleton, was also riding with the group, who were part of the Bay of Plenty Road Pirates SMC (Social Motorcycle Club) but he was further ahead and did not know what had happened.

National president of New Zealand Chinese Association, Meng Foon, said it was not just Chinese, but all tourists who found driving in New Zealand different.

Associate Transport Minister Craig Foss released an Overseas Drivers in Crashes report last week which showed crashes involving overseas drivers, less than 6 per cent of all fatal and injury crashes, had stayed relatively constant during the past 10 years when the number of international visitors had increased about 30 per cent.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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