Double tragedy ends out-of-control driver's chaotic trip

By Tracey Roxburgh

Ms Zheng admitted to two charges of careless driving causing death and two of careless driving causing injury. Photo / Lynda van Kempen
Ms Zheng admitted to two charges of careless driving causing death and two of careless driving causing injury. Photo / Lynda van Kempen

Police want the power to remove incompetent or inexperienced drivers — including overseas tourists — from New Zealand roads, after a crash in which two people died.

The issue emerged at the inquest into the deaths of motorcyclists Grant John Roberts, 43, of Timaru, and Dennis Michael Pederson, 54, of Tauranga, who were hit by a rental car driven by a woman with little driving experience.

Chinese national Kejia Zheng, 20, had "negligible" solo driving experience, had never operated a right-hand-drive car, had never driven on the left side of the road, and was unlikely to have ever driven faster than 40km/h — the speed limit on undivided Chinese highways — police told an inquest in Queenstown.

A motorist reported seeing Zheng driving on both sides of the road and overtaking on double yellow lines near Tekapo on November 26, 2012, but police couldn't find her.

A second motorist later reported having to swerve out of the way of Zheng's car near Lake Pukaki.

Mr Roberts and Mr Pederson were part of a group of motorcyclists who had been at an event in Invercargill.

They were on State Highway 8 at Tarras, near Wanaka, when Zheng lost control of her car, and were unable to get out of the way.

Zheng told police "the car just crashed into them".

She had obtained her Chinese driver's licence in December 2011, and within six weeks had moved to Australia to study.

She did not drive in Australia.

On 24 November, 2012, she flew from Sydney to Christchurch, and the next day hired a rental car with her Chinese licence and drove to Tekapo.

She admitted two charges of careless driving causing death and two of careless driving causing injury. She was disqualified from driving for two years and ordered to pay $10,000 in emotional-harm payments.

Senior Sergeant John Fookes of the Queenstown police told coroner Richard McElrea that officers should be able to ban unskilled drivers and seize their licences.

He said police in areas such as Queenstown had noticed a rise in accidents caused by tourists not used to New Zealand conditions.

Accidents were often caused by "the inability of a proportion of these drivers to have proper control of their hired motor vehicle".

Mr Fookes said it was unclear under the Land Transport Act whether police could remove such drivers from the road.

"That would appear to be where a significant gap exists."

Acting area commander Inspector Andrew Burns said the New Zealand Transport Agency would look at the issue, especially on the West Coast and other popular tourist areas.

Coroner McElrea did not make any recommendations, but said he would seek advice from police national headquarters on whether law changes were necessary.

- Otago Daily Times

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 25 Dec 2014 13:41:28 Processing Time: 605ms