The big problem in terms of road safety is not foreign drivers in rental vehicles. It's New Zealanders killing themselves and other people.

So Associate Transport Minister Julie-Anne Genter has told Waipapakauri Ramp man Peter Birchall, who has been trying to persuade her of the need to regulate the rental car industry. And her role was to decide on priorities.

A 2016 study prepared for the NZ Transport Agency had found that overseas drivers, regardless of where they were from, were usually much safer per kilometre travelled than New Zealanders, she said.

While international visitor numbers had risen about 45 per cent over the past 10 years, the number of overseas drivers involved in crashes has remained relatively consistent. In contrast, since a low point in 2010, there had been a steady increase in road deaths.


"Given your own situation, I fully understand your desire to improve the safety of rental vehicles and of overseas drivers," Ms Genter said, "however 98 per cent of crashes in Northland in the last five years involved vehicles that were not rental vehicles, and of the small number of crashes that did involve overseas drivers, two-thirds were in vehicles that were not rentals. This is why I am looking to improve safety for all drivers in New Zealand, and not at the present time focusing additional resources on rental vehicles specifically."

She noted Mr Birchall's concerns regarding the Rental Vehicle Operators' Code of Practice. She accepted that some smaller companies may not be party to the code, that not all rental companies would adhere to it all the time and that frontline staff may not always follow its recommendations.

She was advised, however, that as of last year 80 per cent of the rental vehicle fleet had signed up to the code, so she was confident that it was well known in the sector.

The fitting of signs reminding drivers to keep to the left was reported to be almost universal among signatories to the code, and in a recent survey more than 80 per cent of drivers recalled seeing them.

"Although advising overseas drivers to keep left is important, it is worth noting around half of the crashes involving overseas drivers are from countries where they drive on the same side of the road as we do," Ms Genter added.

"Australians actually have the highest number of crashes, as they are the most numerous visitors, but licence holders from other countries, such as the United Kingdom, Ireland and South Africa are also represented in the statistics. Many rental cars are also rented by New Zealanders.

"I am advised that the main focus of the Visiting Drivers' Programme for hirers of rental vehicles was in the South Island, as this is where the majority of overseas drivers are travelling and therefore where most incidents with overseas drivers occur.

"The current programme to improve safety for overseas drivers in New Zealand is wider than just the code. It includes actions such as on-road improvements, developing widely-viewed videos on in-bound flights and online advertising campaigns, including in China and on New Zealand tourism sites, to provide information to assist safe driving in our unique road environment."

Regarding speed governors, statistics showed very few rental vehicles were caught speeding compared to those driven by New Zealanders, and that excessive speed was not a commonly cited cause of crashes.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's laws regarding overseas drivers were in line with obligations under the 1949 United Nations Convention on Road Traffic. It would be of great concern if rental companies were not ensuring that hirers had appropriate licences.

The fight is over

Waipapakauri Ramp man Peter Birchall has given up his campaign to persuade the government to regulate the rental car industry as a means of reducing accidents involving foreigners driving on the wrong side of the road.

Mr Birchall said last week that he had to have surgery as a result of the crash that injured him, his wife and an friend at Waipapakauri Ramp on April 13, which would require at least three months' recuperation, and Associate Minister of Transport Julie-Anne Genter's latest response left him with no room to manouevre.

"I guess we just need to keep telling ourselves we could have died, but we are alive," he said.