Tourism leaders are appealing for Kiwis not to come down too hard on overseas drivers as police investigate a crash on Monday which has left two French visitors seriously injured.
A 30-year-old French woman remains in a critical condition in Waikato Hospital, and her 29-year-old male companion seriously hurt, after a head-on collision between their car and a vehicle carrying two women and two children near Awakino on the northern Taranaki coast.
All four from the other car were taken to Taranaki Base Hospital, where the women were yesterday in stable condition in intensive care and children assessed for minor injuries.
Detective Sergeant Gerard Bouterey of the New Plymouth police said it remained unclear what caused the crash and appealed for witnesses.
Tourism Industry Association chief Chris Roberts is urging people not to be too quick to blame visitors.
"While we now see every single crash involving visiting drivers getting media attention, they remain at fault for only 2 or 3 per cent of fatal or serious injuries in New Zealand," he said.
"Without wanting to downplay it, there is a risk of a little bit of hysteria over this issue."
He acknowledged that a growing number of visitors - up about 5 per cent last year to 2.85 million - and a trend away from coach tours to self-drive holidays meant a likelihood of more crashes involving tourists. Statistics indicated they were more likely to crash later in their holidays.
"That suggests they are paying extra attention when they first start."
Rental Vehicle Asso-ciation chief Barry Kidd said the organisation had couriered to its members just before Christmas 160,000 steering wheel tags bearing four basic safety messages - keep left, wear seat-belts, observe the 100km/h speed limit and don't overtake on yellow lines.
Western Waikato road policing acting sergeant Mark Strongman said fatigue was a seriously under-estimated problem, and anyone off a long flight - tourist or Kiwi - should rest before getting behind the wheel.
He recalled a crash in which a man died not 15 minutes away from his home in Te Awamutu after driving from Auckland Airport on arrival from overseas. "He had a long-haul flight, jumped in his car - and died."