Corazon Miller is a NZ Herald reporter

'You never get over the loss'

Grieving mum wants tourist V-plates.
Rhys Middleton
Rhys Middleton

Motorcycle enthusiast Rhys Middleton was killed when a tourist driver veered into his path on a highway in February.

Three months on, his grieving mother has launched a campaign for cars driven by overseas visitors to display V plates.

Rhys Middleton died when he was catapulted from his motorcycle after colliding with a car going the same direction along State Highway 5, near Napier, on Waitangi weekend.

It is believed the driver, a 27-year-old Chinese woman, had veered left to let the group of motorcyclists Middleton was travelling with pass and clipped the motorcycle's front wheel as she moved back into the lane.

His death came a year before the 23-year-old was due to marry his long-time love, Laura Settle. The couple, who worked together at a Tauranga bar, had bought a house and planned to start a family.

His mother, Judy Richards, said the family's grief was still raw. "No, you never get over the loss," she said.

With the support of her family, Richards launched an online petition and website for the V-plate initiative, for all "visitors, tourists and overseas people who buy or hire cars and drive on our roads".

"If these people displayed a 'V' plate for visitors and tourists, visible front and back of their vehicle, the public will be aware that these are overseas drivers and take care."

They wanted to make sure no one else suffered a grief such as theirs.

A 2015 Ministry of Transport report on overseas drivers' accidents from 2010-14 indicated 5.7 per cent of crashes with fatalities and injuries involved overseas licence holders.

Over the same period, 3.8 per cent of all drivers involved in crashes had an overseas licence.

About three-quarters were short-term visitors to New Zealand, 13 per cent were overseas students and 9 per cent were migrants.

But Richards said if a better system was in place to educate these drivers in conjunction with a visual marking system such as an orange "V" plate she might still have her son.

"Who knows what would have happened," she said. "He should never have died."

Jieling Xiao, the driver of the car, has admitted one charge of driving dangerously and will be sentenced at the Napier District Court this month.

Richard's "V" plates idea echoed a similar one launched this week to get "T" plates on rental vehicles.

The idea has received some support, with more than 3000 people supporting the T-plates for Tourists page.

The campaigns were being run separately, but Richards said it wasn't in opposition to the alternate campaign.

Dogandlemon.com editor Clive Matthew-Wilson said the warning plates would give a good indication that the driver of a vehicle was inexperienced and likely to make mistakes.

Leo Mortimer from the Ministry of Transport said there was no evidence the plates would change behaviour and prevent tragedies.

"Unfortunately, statistics show the majority of our road trauma comes from Kiwis killing or injuring themselves or other Kiwis who share the road with them."

- Herald on Sunday

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