25 people were killed in accidents caused by foreign drivers last year. That’s 25 to many. For each death that is caused on the roads, it’s 4 million in social costs. I’ll do the maths, that’s 100 million for those 25 in 2016. For each serious injury that’s $430,000. If there were measures put in place to help stop foreign drivers for making those deadly mistakes, that money and lives could be saved. But the cost of each crash isn’t the point, it’s the fact that tourists are allowed to drive on our roads in the first place. Today am I going to talk to you the problems with tourist drivers, how it affects us and ways we can put in place to prevent any more deaths caused by them.
When tourists come to New Zealand, a majority don’t even speak a word of english. English is the universal language of the world. Maybe I’m the only one, but if I were to travel to another country, I’d check what language they speak if I don’t already know, ensuring that I’d have a stress free holiday. When tourists come to NZ and don’t speak English they are at their own disadvantage. An example is Chinese people. Their first language is Chinese and it is estimated only a small percent can speak english fluently and engage in conversation. Now to my point which is when they drive on our roads. How are they going to understand our road signs when they can’t speak or read English? Yes there are arrows showing left or right but phrases like ‘keep left’, ‘give way’ and ‘exit’ are printed in english. It only takes someone to come to an uncontrolled intersection and not understand what ‘give way’ means and bam. Someone innocent dies or is seriously injured and the tourist is left thinking what the heck happened. It is concerning that when we drive on the roads now, there are possibly people that don’t know what the road rules are, and that they could be coming our way at the next intersection.
We all use the roads at our own risk. In NZ, we have to go through 3 stages to get our full license. A theory test and 2 practical tests. The NZ transport agency states that tourists can drive on our roads if they have a valid overseas license or driver’s permit which is then translated to english if already not so. So someone can come from France where their road rules are the opposite to ours and drive on our roads with just converting their license to english. I think this is not the way it should be. It can be very confusing and frustrating for tourist drivers trying to understand how the road rules work here. If they make a mistake, we could be in the wrong place at the wrong time and be impacted. It could possibly be you, me or a close friend or family member driving round in Wanaka and wear the damage of the tourist’s mistake. This occurred to some of those 25 in those accidents last year. They were following the rules just like anybody else and the victims took the hit literally.
‘New Zealand is so beautiful’. Haven’t we all heard that phrase from a tourist before. We live in a tourist town, we live on tourism and rely on it for the town to survive. However with the beauty of Wanaka and the rest of NZ, it comes with dangerous roads and isolation. There are a lot of blind corners, tight turns and roads that continuously go up and down. With other transport options limited, I can understand why tourist choose to travel by car. I’m sure all us have been in a position either driving or the passenger, and had a scary moment when someone else on the road is not abiding to the rules. The someone could be from any country. The most common mistake that tourists make is driving on the wrong side of the road. The Stuff website has interviewed people living in tourist areas such as Te Anau. People have seen campervans weaving all over the roads cutting corners to make the road less windy. People drive fast to avoid bad weather. Tourists stop their vehicles in the middle of the road to look for accommodation. Some don’t understand what a give way intersection is and pass through with a ‘friendly wave’. How would you feel if you were driving and witnessed one of these maneuvers?
I have given reasons why tourists drivers can pose a real threat to us on the roads. There have been petitions put in place to appeal to the government to try change the law about tourists driving. By making tourists take a theory test in english before they can drive truly tests and guarantees if they know the vital rules to keep safe. It can be a quick 10 – 15 mins test at the rental car places, and if they don’t pass they can be given information on other ways to get around New Zealand, or the public transport available in the cities. Introducing ‘T’ plates on rental cars makes other drivers aware that there is person on the road that hasn’t had much experience and to be cautious. Another option that could be put in place is having picture indications inside rental cars and even on the windscreen. Clear, sort of see through hologram images can be put inside the interiors, just some key important things like the stop and give way signs and to keep left. I’m not saying we have to put all these options in place, but even one idea can significantly change the impact that tourist drivers can have on us. If they are made more aware of the risks driving on our roads and educating them on the vital rules they need to know, they can have an enjoyable holiday to NZ and we can all have peace of mind.
So, I have given you some reasons why I think tourists pose a risk when they drive on our roads currently and that measures should be put in place. Some of you may be thinking that there are more accidents caused by our own drivers and drugs or alcohol. Yes, this may be true but for those 25 people who died, these accidents could have been easily prevented if they were educated or tested if the actually knew the road code. A large majority of those crashes were caused by simple mistakes that could have been prevented. Next time you drive on the road either by yourself, with parents or friends, by all means drive with ease and caution. But I ask you this, consider the tourists driving on the road and whether you would like to see a change to stop them from potentially making a dangerous mistake that will not only haunt them forever, but the life of an innocent and the family.