Visitors from overseas should not get behind the wheel straight after arriving from long-haul flights and drive on roads they are unfamiliar with, a Northland judge has cautioned.

Judge Deidre Orchard's caution in the Whangarei District Court came after she convicted and sentenced an American national this week on a charge of aggravated careless driving causing injury.

The charge was laid under the Land Transport Act and carries a maximum penalty of three years in jail or a $10,000 fine.

Robert Luppi, 72, crossed the centre line and continued driving on the wrong lane before colliding head-on with an oncoming car on State Highway 1 between Pakaraka and Ohaeawai on March 3.


The oncoming car, a Honda Civic, was being driven by female foreign tourist with her husband the front seat passenger. He fractured a thumb, collarbone and patella as a result of the accident, and was transported to the Bay of Islands Hospital and later to the Whangarei Hospital.

Luppi flew into Auckland that morning, hired a car, and was heading north to Paihia when the crash happened. He admitted his fault, saying he drove on the wrong side of the road.

Judge Orchard said it was important people who arrived into New Zealand on long-haul flights got enough rest before they got behind the wheel.

She said it was equally important for them to familiarise themselves with road rules and driving conditions, especially tourists from countries such as the United States where they were used to driving on the right-hand side of the road.

She ordered Luppi to pay his victim $5000 in emotional harm reparation and a further $2000 fine. Luppi was also disqualified from holding or obtaining a driver's licence for 18 months.

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.

The study was done by NZ Transport Agency, Ministry of Transport and StatsNZ and covered the years between 2010 and 2014.

Judge Orchard's comment in court was supported by regional transport committee chairman John Bain, who said tourists should not "race" to visit the beautiful sights of Northland.


"We want tourists in Northland but we want them to come up comfortably without creating mayhem. Every crash is a disaster that shouldn't happen."

AA's motoring affairs general manager, Mike Noon, said common mistakes made by overseas drivers such as crossing the centre line and fatigue were also made by Kiwi drivers.

However, he said visitors to Northland should set proper itineraries and plan their journeys rather than try to complete their trips within targeted days.

"Northland roads are reasonably treacherous, there are not a lot of passing lanes and areas drivers can pull over, there's a lot of mixed traffic, and roads can be very busy in summer," Noon said.

Transport Minister Phil Twyford said the Government was working hard to reduce serious crashes by working with stakeholders to improve road safety.

He said while international visitor numbers have increased by about 45 per cent over the past 10 years, the number of overseas drivers involved in crashes has stayed relatively constant.

The minister said the Government was not proposing to change rules that permitted overseas visitors to drive on their home driver licence for one year from the time they entered New Zealand.

French tourist Remi Morilleau died on Christmas Day, 2015, when his rental car crossed the centre line on SH1 at Oakleigh and smashed into another vehicle. He had arrived in the country that day.

Morilleau's death occurred near where 64-year-old Englishman David Banks died after a head-on smash on November 4, 2015. He, too, had arrived in New Zealand that day.

Last weekend, two German tourists— a 23-year-old man and a 24-year-old woman— were killed in a crash at Kaeo after it appeared the people-mover they had been travelling in crossed the centreline and collided with a truck north of Kaeo.

Before those crashes, American tourist Thomas Springer, confused by oncoming headlights, caused a crash on Puketona Rd which killed two Northland women, one of whom was eight months pregnant.

In December 2016, a tired tourist from Korea ran off the road into a parked car, causing a bystander to lose a finger.

A few days earlier, an American behind the wheel of a campervan found himself on the wrong side of the law and the wrong side of the road after narrowly missing an officer on the roadside, then two hours later forcing a police car off the road to avoid a head-on crash.