Road risks in spotlight as tourists tally 400 crashes

By Andrew Koubaridis

Long driving times, rural roads and driver fatigue contribute to accidents, AA says.

The aftermath of a crash at 8-Mile Junction near Waitomo. Photo / Supplied
The aftermath of a crash at 8-Mile Junction near Waitomo. Photo / Supplied

Overseas drivers were involved in more than 400 crashes on New Zealand roads last year, and failure to keep left, poor handling and fatigue the leading causes of deadly crashes.

The number is down on previous years - in line with a wider trend of a reducing death toll on New Zealand roads - but the number of foreign drivers involved in multi-victim crashes has prompted calls for tourists to make themselves familiar with the country's "unique driving challenges".

Three American tourists were killed in a crash near Turangi in May, and four Argentines died in a head-on crash in July in the central North Island.

Figures released to the Herald show there have been 15 fatal accidents involving foreign drivers last year - about 7 per cent of the total number of fatal crashes.

Transport Agency spokesman Andy Knackstedt said the agency was focused on ensuring everyone using the roads, including tourists and recent arrivals, had a safe journey.

He urged them to take advantage of the free information available.

"We don't want anyone to have their holidays marred by an avoidable tragedy," he said.

"Taking a few minutes to think about New Zealand road rules and the unique challenges of driving here is time well spent.

"In particular we urge tourists to plan their trips carefully and to avoid the risks of driver fatigue by taking frequent breaks, sharing the driving, and not trying to drive too far in a day. We want people to take their time and to enjoy their journeys."

Automobile Association general manager of motoring Mike Noon said a common mistake overseas drivers made was pulling out on to a road in front of other vehicles.

The death of Canadian tourist Michele Smith near Waitomo in February was one example of that.

"They pulled out in front of a concrete truck. What happened is they looked the wrong way - the road was clear and [the driver] pulled in front of another vehicle that they didn't expect to be coming."

Mr Noon said the New Zealand road environment was a challenge.

"We have quite hilly, quite narrow roads. And a lot of those roads are winding."

Another difference was that New Zealand mainly did not have a national motorway system, which could make travel times deceptive.

"I think sometimes they fail to comprehend the time of travel here. So they think we just go to Rotorua in the morning and Wellington in the afternoon or drive from Rotorua to Queenstown."

It was not commonly realised that New Zealand was equivalent in size to the United Kingdom or Japan.

The AA was also aware of tourists beginning their driving almost straight after coming off big flights and crashing because of fatigue.

Mr Noon said another aspect of New Zealand driving that could cause problems for tourists was remote, rural roads which could be single-lane and gravel, something new to many overseas drivers.

Results from Tourism New Zealand's latest visitor experience survey found respondents were less satisfied with road safety than in 2011.

Downward trend
Overseas drivers and accidents

2012: 406 accidents, 15 fatal

2011: 559 accidents, 15 fatal

2010: 617 accidents, 20 fatal

2009: 704 accidents, 21 fatal

- NZ Herald

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