Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

NZ driving angers visitors

Jamie Roberts, an ex-pat from the UK, is appalled at the standard of driving in New Zealand. Picture / Steven McNicholl
Jamie Roberts, an ex-pat from the UK, is appalled at the standard of driving in New Zealand. Picture / Steven McNicholl

Visiting drivers say they are shocked at the lack of courtesy and patience displayed by Kiwis

New Zealand may have just had its lowest road toll in six decades, but our drivers are just as rude and reckless as ever, visitors have told the Weekend Herald.

The Automobile Association has echoed their complaints, describing the average car-bound Kiwi as "impatient" and "not very courteous", while a police traffic boss has told of New Zealand's history and reputation for aggressive drivers.

Tamsyn and Mike Hicks yesterday returned to the UK after having been "constantly shocked" by Kiwi drivers and say our attitudes on the road is a regular conversation topic among other visiting Brits.

"We've seen some crazy manoeuvres and a number of close misses - far more than you would ever experience at home," Mrs Hicks said.

"The main reason for it, we found, was impatience. We saw it quoted in a guidebook somewhere that Kiwis are all very lovely and relaxed and gentle, but as soon as they get behind the wheel they turn into these impatient crazy people, and we just experienced that to be true."

One constant problem was tail-gating, she said, which the couple encountered no matter how fast they travelled.

"We just find it infuriating, to be honest, but every time we read about crashes in the paper over here it was almost never blamed on dangerous driving - and generally always the road was blamed.

"You can't blame the roads. It's just the courtesy and the patience."

Mrs Hicks said she was shocked to find the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office advising prospective visitors to New Zealand that the country had a 2010 rate of 8.7 road deaths per 100,000 of population - compared to the UK rate of 3.1.

One UK ex-pat, Aucklander Jamie Roberts, said the quality of New Zealand driving was "one of my rants all the time to my wife".

"It's almost the first thing anyone ever talks about when they meet each other - you say, how are you finding it, and they say it's great - but the driving is crazy, it's like being in Greece or somewhere," he said.

Mr Roberts, who has lived in New Zealand for several years and whose job has him cover around 70,000km of road each year, said he found having to take evasive driving manoeuvres was "alien" when he first moved here.

"Coming from the UK, I never thought we were particularly safe drivers until I lived here," he said.

"I'm not one of these Poms that whinges about other countries - it's a small price to pay to live here - but right from the top down, the attitude to driving is just one of those things like breathing."

A quick Google search found several blog sites by UK tourists dedicated to detesting our driving.

And travellers' bible Lonely Planet advised visitors to take care, writing that the country's roads were "often made hazardous by speeding locals, wide-cornering campervans and traffic-ignorant sheep".

Automobile Association spokesman Mike Noon put the problem down to a combination of our drivers, vehicles and roads.

"Our roads are quite unforgiving and, if you do make a mistake, it's likely you'll end up in a ditch or hitting a power pole. We've got a lot of roads where ... there's too much traffic and crossing the centre line can often mean hitting another vehicle."

As drivers, we were impatient and uncourteous, "and that is not to our benefit", he said.

Acting Superintendent Rob Morgan, national manager of road policing, acknowledged New Zealand had a "history and reputation for having aggressive drivers".

He also said our many two-way roads did not help our statistics.

"Other countries do have many more speed cameras and automatic ways of enforcing speed and other road behaviour, but nothing's ever simple as one answer - a lot of countries we are compared against have far more congestion than we do, and congestion lowers speeds and lowers impacts."

He said complaints from tourists were common.

"But that's always open to debate - for every complaint we get from a tourist, we get another complaint from a local complaining about tourists, so it's a bit hard to form those judgments."

The world's deadliest roads (2010)
1 Greece 113 deaths*
2 Romania 111 deaths
3 United States 106 deaths
4= Bulgaria, Poland 102 deaths
5 Latvia 97 deaths
6 Croatia 96 deaths
7 Lithuania 90 deaths
8 New Zealand 87 deaths
9 Portugal 79 deaths
10 Belgium 77 deaths
18 Australia 60 deaths
30 Great Britain 31 deaths

International statistics are based on 2010 figures, the latest comparisons available, and do not reflect last year's New Zealand road toll of 284, the lowest since 1952.
*Per million pop.

Source: Department for Transport (UK)

- NZ Herald

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