Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Foreign drivers petition will not sway Government

The Government is refusing to introduce driving tests for foreign motorists because it is afraid of losing the "almighty tourist dollar", a victim of a car crash said today.

Newshub journalist Karen Rutherford said ministers needed to stop "pussy-footing around" and require long-stay tourists to prove their driving ability before getting behind the wheel.

Rutherford was among a group of people who presented a 8600-signature petition to New Zealand First leader Winston Peters outside Parliament today calling for tourists staying longer than three months to sit a full license driving test, or at least an online test.

She suffered head and leg injuries after being struck by a foreign driver while riding her horse in Dairy Flat in August.

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"Let us be clear - New Zealanders cause most of the carnage," Rutherford said in a speech outside Parliament today.

"But we have safety campaigns to target them. Visitors though can get behind the wheel with only ad hoc checks at rental car companies."

Ministers did not want to "rock the boat", she said.

"The Government is not respecting human lives. They'd rather have the almighty tourist dollar."

The petition was organised by Judy Richards, whose son Rhys Middleton was killed by a tourist driver last February.

Speaking on Parliament's steps, Richards said she was still haunted by his death.

Jieling Xiao, pictured in June last year, pleaded guilty to causing the death Rhys Middleton and was jailed for 17 months, but deported to China after two. Photo / Paul Taylor
Jieling Xiao, pictured in June last year, pleaded guilty to causing the death Rhys Middleton and was jailed for 17 months, but deported to China after two. Photo / Paul Taylor

"While you may have sympathy and understanding, you will never know what we are feeling unless you have walked in our shoes.

"How long do we have to wait until the Government will make the road safe for all of us? The time is now."

Peters said the proposal for a tourist driving test was not an attack on foreigners, and many other countries had similar requirements.

"But when you see the number of people who are dying, when you realise there were 25 last year ... then it's time to do something about it."

He will present the petition to Parliament this afternoon.

Earlier today, Transport Minister Simon Bridges said he was sympathetic to families who had lost loved ones in car crashes.

But he warned against "knee-jerk" reactions to crashes caused by tourists, saying statistics showed the rate of crashes caused by visiting drivers was no higher than the overall crash rate.

"The other important thing is that the rate of accidents isn't ... going up, particularly as we see a lot more tourists on our roads," Bridges said.

The minister added that the tourist sector had kept New Zealand's economy strong at a time when the dairy industry was in a downturn.

Bridges said he expected to be able to drive in other countries he visited.

"So I think that reciprocity - in the absence of very strong evidence that this is factor and over and above New Zealanders' driving issues - means this isn't something we will be looking at."

The Government was "doing its best" in providing in-flight driving information to tourists and encouraging rental companies to give safety briefings to motorists.

Labour leader Andrew Little also questioned whether foreign drivers were more dangerous than New Zealand drivers.

A full licence test was "probably impractical", he said, but there was some merit in an online test for drivers. Such a test could be handled by rental companies and would take just two or three hours, he said.

Middleton was killed in February after Chinese national Jieling Xiao's car collided with his motorbike on the Napier-Taupo highway.

It was revealed during a subsequent court case that Xiao had never driven on the open road at speeds of more than 50km/h.

She was jailed for 17 months but was deported after two months.

- NZ Herald

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