My husband and I are visitors from Alaska and we are touring in a rented car. We have read with interest the articles and opinions regarding the car crashes involving tourists and locals.
We recognised that we would have to adjust our driving and learn to drive to on the left. Before arrival, I did extensive research on your traffic laws and road signage. At the Queenstown airport, we reviewed the informational road safety videos available free at a kiosk in the rental car section.
However, no amount of reading or reviewing prepares one for sliding into the seat behind the steering wheel and making that first leap into traffic. It was terrifying and intimidating. It is still intimidating and "not natural". Even after driving hundreds of kilometres through Southland and negotiating the multiple narrow and curvy routes, we remain cautious. I still reach for the windshield wiper switch to activate a turn signal, if less often.
I suggest your road system could be improved. Wider shoulders, additional passing lanes, curve-straightening, buckets of yellow paint, better signage, and sturdier guardrails would facilitate road safety for all drivers.
Road shoulders and passing lanes: Many stretches of road have negligible shoulder space, and only two narrow lanes. Increasing the width of paved shoulder space allows and encourages slower moving vehicles to pull over and let a line of cars pass.
Multiple concealed curves and ambiguous lane marking: There are curves where the lane marking seems to suggest passing is permitted - ie a dashed white centre line raised or painted, leading up to and around these curves. Common sense prevented us from succumbing to any urge to pass in these areas.
Guardrails: Periodically, we observed small slender posts strung with wire embedded near cliff edges that appear to be a polite form of guardrail. In the US we are accustomed to liberal use of large sturdy posts strung with heavy metal panels of guardrail. Often, this guardrail is deformed and scraped, but not broken through, bearing witness to its usefulness.
Public messaging: Road safety video kiosks could be installed in every rental car agency office, hotel lobby, and i-Site. The key points of signage and left-sidedness could be integrated into printed tourism information.
Safety information could be piggybacked on to the most recognisable symbol of your country next to kiwifruit - The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. You could follow Air New Zealand's lead - its safety video is recognised worldwide.
I also suggest there may be subtle tourist bias at play. Tourists can be a pain to some. In Alaska, tourism is next to godliness, and I am experienced in the tourism industry.
Tourists arrive in New Zealand en masse at various seasons of the year, clog your cities and trails, overtake your lodging accommodation, jam your roads, and generate rubbish by the tonne. All this while dropping a wad of cash.
Statistics indicate tourism directly contributed $7.3 billion and $9 billion indirectly to GDP, plus more than 110,000 jobs.
I am positive that New Zealanders can work with the Government and tourist organisations to mitigate the driving issues, so other families will not have to suffer the loss of a child or family member, and encourage a better understanding and acceptance of the positive impact tourists have on this fair country.
Debate on this article is now closed.