Three young overseas visitors may owe their lives to a guardrail put in at Shines Hill, near Charleston, just hours before they crashed.

The men, believed to be Chinese, were travelling south to Greymouth last night when the driver lost control of the vehicle on gravel at roadworks at the base of the hill.

He told police this morning that he had not seen the roadworks warning signs so failed to slow down.

He braked but lost control of the rental car which then spun, smashing into the guardrail and extensively damaging the front and rear.

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There is no cellphone coverage in the area and no nearby houses so the shaken trio stayed in the car overnight.

A Coast Road commuter heading to work in Westport this morning spotted the damaged grey sedan beside heavy machinery at the side of the road.

She stopped to check the car, then heard voices and realised there were people still inside.

The three were somewhat confused but said they were unhurt. They had tried to sleep until it was light and help came.

The woman went to find cellphone cover to alert police. She found roading contractors on the other side of the roadworks who had just arrived to begin work.

They said they had noticed the car near their machinery further up the road but had no idea people were still inside.

After the motorist left to alert police from Big Totara River, where there is phone coverage, two Greymouth police officers travelling to Westport passed by.

The contractors waved them down and they then helped the men out of their car.

The driver and his two passengers were taken to Westport police station.

A police officer said they would help them to get back on their way again but this time it was likely to be by bus.

A tow truck was brought in to remove the vehicle.

The steel guardrail, which contractors completed about 2.30pm yesterday, is part of a $300,000 project underway to reduce the number of crashes in the area.

There have been five reported crashes on that stretch of State Highway 6 including one fatality.

- Westport News