Hire car manager quits over tourist driving

A former rental car company manager backing a petition to introduce testing for overseas drivers says the worst case he had seen was a driver who signed a contract, got in a car and drove it straight into another car in the company's car park.

Queenstown man Nick Gregory is, as of yesterday, one of more than 27,000 people who signed the petition started by Geraldine boy Sean Roberts, that is quickly attracting support.

And, he said on his post on the petition site, the responsibility of handing keys to tourists ''who, time after time, end up killing themselves and taking out New Zealanders in the process'' was one reason he left the industry.

Grant Roberts, father of 10-year-old Sean, died in 2012 after a Chinese woman described by police as having ''negligible independent driving experience'' lost control of her vehicle and hit his motorcycle.

The online petition calls on Transport Minister Gerry Brownlee to require overseas drivers to sit a test before driving in New Zealand.

The petition follows rising concerns over the driving behaviour of some overseas drivers, and some recent high-profile road deaths.

Data from the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) showed drivers with foreign licences were involved in about 600 crashes a year, of which about 20 annually were fatal.

But Prime Minister John Key indicated recently the Government had no plans to revisit testing of foreign drivers, despite more fatal crashes in the past couple of weeks. They included one involving a Dutch national who has been charged with careless driving causing death after three people died near Rakaia.

Mr Gregory said he stepped away from 10 years of managing car rental companies in May last year.

His main concern in that role was the lack of a system to ascertain whether clients could drive safely.

Another Queenstown resident, photographer and film location scout Daz Caulton, posted on his Facebook site recently he was concerned ''one of our crew is going to be hit'' on the Glenorchy road.

He said he had seen four tourists crossing the centre line on the road.

He stopped one overseas driver, ''got out of my car, pulled his keys out of the ignition, and chucked them in the lake''.

The petition had reached 27,257 signatures by late yesterday.

- david.loughrey@odt.co.nz

Que? Where's the two lane blacktop?

It's good we've given up the xenophobia of expecting visitors to fit in and be compliant with and knowledgeable of the NZ Road Code. After all, these people bring in good money.

"So I pulled hard over to the side of the road..."

...and that could have been good, or very very wrong.

Topsy, there is truth in what you say: "Our road network is not that much different to what you find in most European countries."  Its gravel (unsealed) roads are not that much different to what you find in India, Asia, Africa... and many other parts of the world.  Some things are different though, we drive on the left but many of our visitors are used to a Keep Right system.  A high proportion of our tourists don't come from "European countries" so that's not relevant.  

On a shortish trip that included Scandinavia and other Keep Right countries I found myself heading for the driver's door to get in, reverting to habitual behaviour because in NZ that would be the passenger's side. And when being driven around narrow roads carved into old rocks, with no room for overtaking and the need to be aware of oncoming traffic because there were many places where one of us would have stopped at the widest part to let the other come through, I imagined how I would have coped as a driver and was heartily thankful I was being driven by people who lived there.  My instinct to pull hard left kicked in when there were situations requiring careful negotiation of a difficult road, just as well I wasn't the one with hands on the wheel.  I do not claim to be a brilliant driver, merely one with several decades of driving experience and a clean license.  I have in general quick automatic reactions when driving, and that's good when my reactions are appropriate to the situation.  In a country where they don't drive on the left it would be disastrous.  

"Foreign" drivers are at a disadvantage, even when we are good drivers at home.  Drivers with almost no experience other than getting their driving license are a potential danger to themselves and others.  What other countries do about tourists and hire cars is their business.  We need to do what will work safely in NZ.  "Fairness" isn't ideal when it means leaving the situation as it is with visitors and NZers alike having a "fair" chance to feature in the road kill stats.

Hypocrisy

And yet we all expect to have the right to hop in a rental car in other countries and drive where ever we like. We don't get to have it both ways. I would love to see a Kiwi try to pass a Scandinavian driving test. Our road network is not that much different to what you find in most European countries. Driving alcohol levels are higher than in almost every other country in the world. Our motor fatality rate is more than twice that of the UK. All that is the fault of tourist drivers, and NZ drivers can hold their heads up proudly. Excuse me but, "Yeah, Right !".

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