A judge has this week warned overseas drivers to make sure they get plenty of rest before jumping behind the wheel of a vehicle in New Zealand.

The comment came during the sentencing of a 72-year-old American who had arrived in Auckland after a long haul flight, and driven north.

The man, who was used to driving on the right hand side of the road, drifted into the path of an oncoming vehicle, ironically, driven by a tourist. Luckily no one was killed.

Read more: Northland judge tells foreign tourists: Don't drive without lots of rest


A study in 2016 showed the highest proportion of overseas drivers involved in road crashes within three days of arriving in New Zealand were in Northland, Waikato and Canterbury.

Perhaps the study needs updating, because having spent a few days in Central Otago it seems that region's roads are potential death traps for tourists.

Drivers drifting toward the centre line, or travelling 20km below the prevailing speed limit (and holding up traffic) were common on the windy, mountainous roads.

A hotelier shook his head and said "happens all the time" when we mentioned our horror at watching a rental car overtake a rental van on a blind corner, on the road to Milford Sound.

Our own rental vehicle had a worn sticker on the speedometer that said "keep left".

I suspect (hope) if we hadn't been New Zealanders we would have been given more safety advice when we collected the vehicle.

Tiredness also builds when travel schedules are based on time estimates relevant in the US or Europe, but are elongated in New Zealand by narrow, winding roads.

Fifty km on a German autobahn or American highway is not 50km on a Northland highway.


We seem to have no trouble enticing tourists here with slick campaigns, but struggle to communicate to them that they might accidentally kill themselves while here.

Perhaps airline safety videos could include more safety messages about NZ roads.

At the moment it feels like a problem that has been flapping around in the too-hard basket, for too long.