Toby Manhire

Toby Manhire on New Zealand

Toby Manhire: Welcome to NZ, our roads will drive you insane

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Visitors to our fair land will soon discover Kiwis pretty much take a she'll-be-right approach to the traffic rules.

Photo /  Rotorua Daily Post
Photo / Rotorua Daily Post

Visitors, welcome. On behalf of everyone, apart from the xenophobes, obviously - awkward laugh! - a hearty haere mai. Have a lamington. Don't mention David Bain.

Probably you're traversing our happy little country in a motor car. Maybe a campervan. If so - and sorry, cyclists, much like Tamaki Drive this column isn't wide enough for a proper bike lane - gather around. We're not, you know, 100 per cent purist when it comes to the rules of the road. Or, maybe it's better put this way: there is an extra, unpublished chapter in the New Zealand road code, passed down from generation to generation like a beloved heirloom or sixth toe.

To help you gently blend in, here are 10 unspoken rules of the road.

1. Other drivers

As you steer the bends and straights of New Zealand, you will see this sign: "Think of other drivers". Owing to budget cuts, its final three words didn't get printed.

These are: "as the enemy".

The enemy also includes pedestrians, possums, cyclists.

2. The enemy (continued)

This is important. Only from the driver's seat can The Enemy truly be seen. Within that furious capsule, a mysterious gas fills the air, turning otherwise rational individuals into bile-sweating maniacs. A similar effect can be observed in overeager lovers of sport, or in many who post anonymous comments on websites.

Remove them from that bubble, hose them down, and they are mostly perfectly reasonable people. The occasional road-rage inflammation excepted, drivers remember being civilised when they close the car door from the outside.

3. Following distances

In wide-open-spaced New Zealand, we don't do invasions of personal space. Except on the roads, where, in town and country alike, it's all strangely intimate.

Why? Hard to fathom. Plainly, it's bloody dangerous, both in boosting the chances of a rear-end smash, and in terrifying the tail-gated driver into doing something stupid like lurching into a ditch (no, I haven't, but nearly). What's more, such proximity makes it considerably more difficult for the pursuing driver to overtake, limiting the sightline and resulting in stomach-churning swerves. And all this white-knuckle accelerator-brake stuff must really ramp up the fuel bill. More of that sweetly charming irrationality? Probably. Some speak, mind you, of the ancient sport of invisible tow-ropes. Of a primal, feral sexual urge. And of a nostalgic project to simulate the carriage formation of train travel in a country where the railways are for antique-lovers only.

4. Corners

Many New Zealanders like to get things done early. This can be seen in suburbs across the country daily, as motorists accelerate into corners, thereby removing any need to accelerate out of them.

5. Roundabouts

Here you will witness more of that getting-things-done-early spirit, mixed with a blast of adorably adolescent rage at the prospect of some other bugger getting around before you. Note also the random and meaningless use of the indicator.

6. Lanes

Nowhere is New Zealanders' egalitarian spirit better evidenced than on multiple-lane highways. While other countries like to have slower drivers in the left, faster drivers in the right, we distribute them evenly. Wildly.

7. "Merge like a zip"

Another confusing sign, this is to be found as two lanes become one. You'll learn that "zip" is colloquial New Zealand slang, meaning "sociopath."

8. Passing lanes

Like a room full of children inhaling candy floss, everyone accelerates in the leadup to a passing lane. A driver purring along sleepily at 80km/h will burst into life and scream up to 110km/h, slowing suddenly to 80 at the passing lane's conclusion.

9. Pedestrians

Always stop at zebra crossings. But should a pedestrian appear to be crossing a road elsewhere, carrying with them anything resembling complacency, or happiness, or groceries, immediately accelerate. Not with the goal of hurting the pedestrian - God no, don't be ridiculous! Do so as a heartfelt, selfless reminder of their tender mortality. Should the petrified pedestrian stumble, the appropriate course of action is to halt the vehicle, enable hazard lights and go heroically, sympathetically, to his or her assistance.

10. We're bad drivers

It's painful to admit, but on almost every measure, by population, by distance travelled, serious injuries and deaths on New Zealand roads rank among the highest of developed countries. We're getting better.

But, still. Welcome. Sorry. Watch for crossing penguins. And Hobbits. Happy New Year.


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- NZ Herald

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