Garner is onto it with road safety

Duncan Garner talks about the focus on foriegn drivers and the silly ideas to force them to sit tests upon arrival.

Another horror holiday road toll, another round of national angst about foreign drivers.

It must be every motorist’s worst nightmare – rounding a corner to see more than 1000kg of metal hurtling towards you on your side of the road (regardless of the other driver’s ethnicity).

Are we being racist when it comes to foreign drivers? At first glance the numbers suggest there’s good reason for concern.

In 2013 overseas drivers were involved in at least 558 crashes resulting in death or injury. It may have been as high as 800 crashes according to the Transport Agency but they don’t collect data from every crash.

In three-quarters of the incidents, the foreigners were found at fault. Eleven of the crashes were fatal.

Grim reading. But it’s pretty clear the Government isn’t going to buckle and force visitors to sit some sort of driving test before they grab the keys to a rental car and set off on the open road.

Some safety advocates want travellers banned from renting cars unless they pass an online driving test. Some have called for drivers to sit a practical test. But that’s just not “practical” is it?

Where are these people meant to do it? Drive a car around a busy airport car park? And really, how effective would it be.

Take the recent incidence with an Australian driver…do these advocates for testing really think Aussie drivers should have to sit tests. Are NZ drivers really the most awesome drivers int he world and all those filthy firriners are the cause of the problem?

Our roads are the wild west, and some pathetic online or car park test isn’t going to prove anything. I have rented cars overseas and never sat any practical or online test. It doesn’t happen in America. And they drive on the other side of the road. All you need there is a driver’s licence and a credit card.

The Prime Minister has already said the laws here don’t need to be tightened and he’s not overly concerned about the crash rate. It’s pretty dismissive. John Key – remember he’s also the Tourism Minister – says the crash rate of foreigners is largely consistent and not “a big issue”.

It isn’t a big issue.

The Government, it seems, doesn’t want to scare off the tourists and send all the wrong messages. But that doesn’t mean there’s not another answer. The answer of course is to build better, wider and safer roads.

That means more median barriers – because they save lives. Let’s stop spending the millions we do on road safety messages and expensive television campaigns. They’ve done their dash and no longer work. We’ve become immune to the shock images and messages. The road toll isn’t improving or coming down; 294 people died on our roads last year, 40 more than 2013.

Yes, the road toll fluctuates, but it’s still too high and we should change our approach.

The AA wants more median barriers on highways. It says it would help in its goal of having the road toll under 200 by 2020. To reduce the numbers of deaths on our roads we need more median barriers.

The focus on the number of the road toll is doomed to failure…as the population grows it stands to reason that the road toll will grow too. It is unrealistic to expect the road toll to drop below 200 when the population of New Zealand is expected to reach 5million sometime before 2021 and close to 7 million by 2068. It stands to reason with a higher population that there will be more cars, more drivers and consequently more accidents. Focussing on a raw number of road deaths seems to me to be self defeating.

Garner is right though…focussing on fixing our roads is better bang for our taxpayer buck in terms of road safety.

They work. Just look at the data in Wellington reported this week.

The region recorded the lowest level of road deaths per capita on both sides of the Tasman. Why? Because finally Wellington was seeing the benefits of more median barriers being built across the region.

The big one is the centre barrier that runs up Centennial Highway, south of Paekakariki. I drove that road a lot before the barrier was installed and after. I felt so much safer with the barrier in place. It’s 3.5 kilometres long and only cost $15 million.

The Centennial Highway barrier has been hit more than 100 times without any deaths occurring. Before it was installed in 2005 there were 15 fatal and serious crashes. You can’t miss the roadside white crosses as you drive this stretch of road.

The new Waikato expressway is wide and safe too. There’s little chance of a head-on crash there. The northern motorway extension north of Auckland has a median barrier running up the middle. Little chance of a head-on there.


And yet this is also precisely where the Police set up their speed cameras.


– Fairfax


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  • The Whinging Pom

    I’m not sure the median barrier is the magic bullet to stop foreign drivers being on the wrong side of the road.

    Before we came to NZ I drove extensively in Europe. In 30 years of driving I remember twice travelling (for approx 100m – 200m each time) on the incorrect side of the road. On both occasions I was coming out of a petrol station and there was absolutely no traffic. This meant there were no clues to where I should position myself on the road. So I took the exit from the forecourt as if I was in the UK, then drove for a short distance on the left hand side.

    Once was in my own (i.e. British) car, once in a local vehicle, so position of steering wheel didn’t seem to make a difference.

    What would have helped stop me doing this? The sort of white arrows painted on the tarmac pointing in the direction you ought to be travelling if you’re on that side of the road, like you do see on the road at many scenic lookout points in NZ. Much cheaper to install than median strips, if these were more widespread I think it’d help.

    Fortunately my own transgressions were both on long straights, and I realised my mistakes well before any danger. But if I’d been near to a blind bend the story could have been very different.

    • Nothelen

      I agree entirely but I think we are saying the arrows need to be positioned so they are of use to you if the car is now travelling the wrong way down the road. Is that how they are now ? I have seen them on the road but didn’t pay so much attention to where they were in relation to the picnic area or whatever.

      • The Whinging Pom

        When I have seen them they normally seem to be well placed – eg just as you leave the parking area etc.

        The problem lies, I think, in that often these sorts of places are fairly informally defined, so if there’s no other traffic about (which is often the case in NZ) you don’t get any clues to lead you into the correct lane, and long-term habit takes over.

        Forcing incoming drivers to take on-line tests or to drive around the carpark would do absolutely nothing to address this issue. I was always aware that in France they drive on the other side of the road, so I could have clicked the correct button on a computer screen to that effect until the cows came home. But that didn’t matter on a hot summer’s afternoon when the rest of the village was having a siesta and there was nothing to help me correct a momentary lapse…

    • Mark

      It is indeed the times when you are alone that are the problem,out of gas stations as you noted,mall car parks,crossing the road, etc.
      I rode 17000 kms thru 24 states (USA) in 41 days,over 10000k’s without a helmet at all hours of the day & night. One thing that we all had was arrows stuck to our speedo or dash or windshield pointing right,as a reminder.
      Your white arrows are a good idea,but alas,stuff happens.
      I had my life saved by the wire median barriers just before Christmas,they prevented a car coming into my lane,it was close enough that I was hit by debris.They do seem to work.

  • Stuarts.burgers

    Maybe the figure we should be looking at is deaths per 100,000 km traveled. This then is more of an Apples to Apple comparison that looking back at raw historical numbers.
    Eleven fatal accidents is of course eleven to many but how many more foreign drivers are we seeing on the road, and how many km are they traveling.
    I think that we all agree that one road fatality is one to many but we need to at all the information and not just point the blame very quickly at one group.
    But I must say that I am impressed with Saudi Arabia’s very low death total in regards to women drivers may if we followed their ideas and expanded them we could have similar figures 8-) ( yes that last paragraph is an attempt at humor)

  • symgardiner

    Yip… more barriers and stop fluffing around with the Transmission Gully and Holiday highway. Get those babies in and it will go a long way to improving things. Then we need to seriously work on making SH1 an actual motorway. That’s no lights, roundabouts and 50km/hr zones. And if that means curving two straight double lane roads through the middle of pristine Army training grounds (otherwise known as a national park), then so be it.

    • EveryWhichWayButLeft

      Yep, the holiday highway will help eliminate the fatalities that occur between Puhoi and Warkworth – I don’t know the raw numbers, but that would be a few.

      But, don’t stop there… fix the Dome Valley and you instantly lower the annual road toll. And while you’re at it, chuck a tunnel through the Brynderwyns.

      • symgardiner

        Yip. All the way to Whangarei. As a bonus it would lower the pressure on AKL housing and help drop the ‘poverty’ in Northland.

    • Simon Arnold

      We do need to clean up bottlenecks caused by intersections and the runs through towns, but just getting passing lanes even more frequent and predictable would be of greater help than more fancy costly intersections.

      Nothing like sitting behind something moving under 100km/h and knowing that you’ll safely get past in a few minutes.

  • McGrath

    Priority should be given to double-lanes for SH1 up and down the country. It is crazy how NZ’s primary road can reduce to a country lane in places.

  • shykiwibloke

    OK – so how many countries drive on each side? mmm Maybe its us that are a bit unusual. What I mean is with the countries we buy cars from – Japan, UK and Oz LH driving – we are unlikely to change, but LH driving is clearly a small minority. We should look at more creative ways of helping the majority rather than treat them like the unusual odd-balls.

    • geoff

      Not forgetting India, most of South East Asia, most of Africa, United Kingdom, Ireland -hardly a small minority!

      • TSD

        35% of countries is definitely a minority even with a – minority – of Africa. See map here

        • david

          I was told – not sure if its true – that if you add up the populations of the countries, more people live in countries that drive on the left.

          • TSD

            Sorry but they’ve been telling you porkies.

            You see population isn’t really an accurate way of looking at it anyway as the most populous countries have a smaller proportion of drivers. The prime country of interest in this way would probably be India.

            As it turns out, around a third of all people live in countries that drive on the left, yet only 10% of total global road distance is for left side driving.

        • Jas

          It maybe a minority of countries but take the tourist numbers and compare how many come from leftside driving countries and rightside driving countries and then comment

          • TSD

            Actually the point was backing up hykiwibloke when his assetation that we are in the minority of drivers was challenged. He was quite clearly right. Actually the right side thing extends to transport systewith international standards such as nautical and aeronautical too.
            I’m not sure how many tourist drivers come from which countries, that wasn’t the point, it would be interesting to know though, do you have the figures?

  • Rob

    If barriers are the solution, what a great opportunity for a new business. With the #8 wire mentality, we should be able to design a robust yet really affordable barrier using local materials – Aluminium from Bluff, recycled steel, recycled tyres, even recycled plastic. Turns a problem into an opportunity. (P.S. I’m not a greenie).

    • axeman

      And the unemployed to help install them

  • TSD

    And the great thing (much to the green’s chagrin I’m sure) is that the government is funding many road projects that will be very effective in this way. Take the Waikato expressway for example, it will knock about half an hour off the trip from Bombay to Tirau, two lanes both ways and you won’t even need to risk seeing Hamilton!

  • Matt Pearce

    After visiting the Philippines I released something. There are two types of driving systems in the world

    1. Defensive driving. In the Philippines you can drive in front of traffic or stop in the road, all drivers are watching and ready to stop for anything that comes across their path
    2. Rules based driving. Like here in NZ. We drive at the speed limit and only expect to stop for rules e.g. stop signs, traffic lights etc. We don’t expect to have to stop for anything else.

    It seems as though drivers from defensive driving countries have more accidents, as they expect other vehicles to watch out and stop for them, Its ingrained in their driving style.

    Any test or lesson for foreign drivers should only apply to drivers from defensive driving countries

    • Andrew Gibson

      That doesn’t sound quite right. Defensive driving teaches you the opposite; that other drivers are out to kill you, so you better be wary of “them”. For example, speeding drivers that expect others respecting the speed limit to pull over could obviously do with some defensive driving skills.

      • Matt Pearce

        What do you mean sounds right? I wasn’t saying what was right or wrong, I was stating the reality. Defensive drivers have a deep down mental expectation that other drivers will stop for them, that’s why Indian drivers etc, seem to pull out on to highways and get hit by on coming traffic (atleast thats what happened last month in NZ)

        • stanace

          Absolutely correct Matt.
          I drove in Jakarta for 3 years, and was very careful if I saw a car coming out of a side street, they just expected you to avoid them.
          It took me about 2 months back in NZ before I didn’t immediately put my foot on the brakes.

          • Matt Pearce

            Yup and the system seems to work in those places, the trade off being that everyone has to drive a lot slower

        • Andrew Gibson

          The course I took many years ago taught exactly the opposite; be wary and look out for ongoing hazards like incompetent drivers. What you’re talking about is common courtesy, which has no place on our roads.;) Perhaps other cultures are simply “nicer”.

          • Matt Pearce

            You have completely missed the point

      • Nic C

        Or you could not sit in the right-hand lane Andrew and stay left unless passing… you know, like road rules state.

  • Keanne Lawrence

    It seems that many drivers referred as “foreigners” have only been overseas in the inter island ferry and are well out of their comfort zone driving on highways or open roads as part of their holiday. Their lack of road sense and basic driving skills are limited as they confidently set out on their “trip”.
    Glimpsing a following vehicle straddling the centre line approaching the Gowan is no place to be loosing the plot and one can only speculate the reason why or how he got there. A local vehicle and well back not to be a threat to us but there could be a road hog advancing in the other direction.
    Even after 2 years driving a left hand drive on the right hand side of the it is no serious challenge to keep left and at least give yourself an even chance to survive.
    It amusing that that MP describes Philippines driving as defensive and wonder if he say any hazard parking. That is when there are no parks available so you stop anyway and put on your hazard light. Get out and do your thing letting the traffic sort itself out. Or being on a narrow two lane road that has two opposing lanes of traffic as pedicabs and motorbikes pass up the inside and stop anywhere. The only rule that applies in the CBD is “up the bum” that is to say sticking close to the vehicle in front and following them through the gap.
    The law are certainly get a lot of flack over the holiday toll but though some sort of test or instruction wont make bad driver good. That is why we limited our touring while in NZ as it seems to be becoming a major hazard area with too many wishing they could rewind or hit the button to have another go.

  • R&BAvenger

    Yes improving our roads is important, so do away with last minute appeals against important projects like the Roads of National Significance for example.
    You can’t fix stupid. People make poor decisions all the time, some because they overrate their driving ability, are inexperienced, under the influence of drugs/alcohol, fatigued, etc etc.
    There will always be a road toll while people are driving vehicles. driverless cars might be an avenue towards reducing the road toll, but that will be some time in the far future in this country.
    Improve the roads in the meantime.

  • axeman

    Agree along with median barriers, in the regions what about more passing lanes so it enables drivers who travel at 100k to go pass the slower drivers

  • abbaby

    It’s the speed on these unfamiliar open roads. Most places people come from in Asia are large cities and you don’t get to drive at speed consistently. You mostly creep and scan for car parks and pull in without indicating and sometimes fight for your right to be on the road in rush hour. Urban roads can get v. fast and dangerous. Country roads can also be stop-start-stop-start.
    New Zealand though has these very wide open yet fast roads. Then, then there is driving on the other side of the road. We also use give way and stop signs instead other places which may use traffic lights.
    To do LHD from your lifetime of right hand drive you have to practice and when you do the first dozen times you have to be very conscious of where on the roads you are. I suspect tourists don’t think of it enough. After dealing with that though they need heaps of time to get used to the speeds.
    I am a training as a professional driver now (fancy name for my job) yet I am not ashamed to say back then it took me a long time to get used to driving LHD in Asia. It would be very fearful if I had gone to Incheon Airport for the first time and hopped into a car to drive away – it’s ridiculous to think so actually. But that is what tourists do here …