John Weekes is an NZME News Service reporter based in Wellington.

Give way? But which is my left?

Barrister Baden Meyer says the old law is 'retarded' and is looking forward to the end of it. Photo / Michael Craig
Barrister Baden Meyer says the old law is 'retarded' and is looking forward to the end of it. Photo / Michael Craig

An indication of the problems upcoming changes to the give way rules may prompt on our roads has been revealed in a Herald on Sunday street poll this week - many people don't know their left from their right.

About half the people polled this week had a hard time telling the difference between left and right when asked to raise their left hand.

Instead, they used visual cues or stalled for time. Bartender Serena Monk said she often had to make an "L" sign with her left hand to ensure it was the correct one.

Emma Poelman said she generally planned driving trips in advance. "But if someone said 'go left' I wouldn't know," she admitted.

Many weren't sure if the new rules had been enforced yet.

The March 25 deadline for the new rule was news to Englishman Rikky Payn. He hated the current law.

Barrister Baden Meyer had no problem knowing his left from right, but he wasn't quite sure when the rules would change. He called the current give-way law "retarded" and looked forward to the end of it.

German visitor Julie Smit knew her left from right, but said many of her friends did not. "It's a girls' problem," she said.

Student Brianna Kerridge agreed. "I'm not good with my left and right."

Taxi driver Azmat Ali said drivers at intersections increasingly looked to him for reassurance on giving way.

Bank officer Mao Mase believed at least a fifth of drivers didn't know their left from right.

Students Anna Half, Alex Rabl, Jodie Stewart, Sharna Lawson, Carmen Reid and Maryanne Greenwell raised concerns about the rule change. "There's going to be so many crashes. What about the nanas and grandads?" Greenwell said. "What about dyslexics?" said Half.

Acting national manager for road policing Rob Morgan said one possible upside of any confusion would be people driving less aggressively.

"When you're doing something like this and you publicise it well enough, people are usually very careful."

New Zealand was an oddball among nations when it came to give-way rules. Morgan said South Korea also changed a few years ago and a lesson learned there was not to start the awareness campaign too early.

"We purposely kept it low key," Morgan said.

Failing to give way is an offence. Morgan said those who broke the new rules would be treated on a case-by-case basis, though police would still take a dim view of reckless driving. They were working with the New Zealand Transport Agency on the awareness campaign. NZTA spokesman Andy Knackstedt said "it's a $1.2m campaign compressed into a space of about three weeks".

The insurance industry supported the change - but was anxious. "We urge drivers to be more cautious when approaching the intersection where the new rule is to take effect and not to assume that the other driver will necessarily understand," said Insurance Council spokesman Brett Solvander.

- Herald on Sunday

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