A horror rental van smash that killed three Hong Kong tourists in Central Otago on Thursday has reignited calls for overseas visitors to sit driving tests before getting behind the wheel.
Driver Wing Fai Chan, 60, also known as Allan, and two female rear-seat passengers - Kwai Tei Chong, 61, also known as Connie, and Yin Wan Ng, 56 - died after their hired vehicle collided with a truck and trailer unit on State Highway 6 near Luggate, in the Wanaka area, about 4pm.
The triple tragedy is the latest in a string of serious smashes involving tourist drivers.
While tourists are blamed for fewer than 2 per cent of annual fatal crashes, the rate soars to 25 per cent in the tourist hot-spots of Queenstown and Wanaka.
Overseas drivers were involved in 493 injury or death crashes in the Otago and Southland regions from 2009 to 2013.
The New Zealand Transport Agency is working with the Ministry of Transport, police, local councils, the Automobile Association and the tourism sector to target tourist hotbeds. They are making sure rest areas and scenic spots popular for photographs are safe to negotiate and include clear road signage.
An NZTA spokesman yesterday said its approach aimed to make every part of the transport system safer - vehicles, roads and roadsides, speeds and road users.
The NZTA has also developed steering wheel tags, distributed to Rental Vehicle Association members, which remind drivers of safe speeds, safe overtaking, keeping left, wearing seatbelts and the dangers of driver fatigue.
But road safety campaigner Clive Matthew-Wilson has slammed the Government's strategy for dealing with tourist accidents as a failure.
"Hardly a week goes by without a serious accident involving foreign nationals using our roads, yet the Government's response has been largely restricted to giving out brochures and stickers telling foreigners to drive safely," he said.
Recent arrivals to New Zealand should be required to pass an interactive driving test before renting a vehicle, he said.
But Simon Douglas of the AA Research Foundation dismissed tests as "neither practical or effective". He said the AA supported the NZTA approach.
Mr Douglas said tourist accidents did not typically involve high speeds or alcohol. They more often involved looking the wrong way while exiting high traffic visitor sites, drifting across centrelines, or succumbing to a natural instinct by reverting to their usual side of the road.
In the latest crash, the van was turning from a give way sign at the bottom of a steep incline in a 100km/h area. Tyre marks from the truck were evident in the left-hand lane of the highway for about 50m. The badly damaged van ended up on its side on the highway and part of it was cut away to remove the bodies. The truck ended up on the wrong side of the road, with its trailer jack-knifed.
Police said the intersection could be tricky, and suggested sunstrike might have contributed to an earlier crash at the same spot.
RVA president Ian Berrington said tourist crashes were a "worrying trend".
"There is a question as to whether we can do more in the way of education to assist visiting drivers to drive safely on our roads," said Mr Berrington, also Apex Car Rentals operations manager.
The RVA's toolkit is given to overseas drivers when they book and collect their vehicles. It has also commissioned an information video highlighting risks, and differences, in driving on New Zealand roads.
NZME., additional reporting Otago Daily Times