Tourists steered towards safer driving

A Governance group is expected to be formed within weeks to develop a project aimed at improving road safety for tourist drivers.

The decision follows a meeting in Queenstown yesterday.

Changes are expected within three years.

About 45 people representing 15 agencies, including the New Zealand Transport Agency, ACC, New Zealand Police, the Central Otago and Queenstown Lakes district councils, Destination Queenstown, the Ministry of Transport, Tourism New Zealand and rental car companies attended the meeting.

It is the first step in a three to five-year project, designed to lower the number of tourists involved in serious or fatal crashes on New Zealand roads.

The Government's Safer Journeys strategy 2010-2020 plans to guide improvements to road safety, aiming for safer roads with fewer deathsor serious injuries.

It also introduces the ''Safe System'' to New Zealand, recognising while mistakes are inevitable, deaths and serious injuries from road crashes are not.

NZTA spokeswoman Lisa Rossiter, of Wellington, told the Otago Daily Times yesterday while the New Zealand road toll was decreasing, when it came to fatal and serious crashes involving overseas drivers ''the line is basically flat''.

While tourist crashes were ''not a large proportion'' of crashes in New Zealand, one of the aims of the strategy was to improve the New Zealand driving experience for tourists.''

What we want to see is the tourist line dropping in the same proportion as the national.''

Figures obtained by the ODT in March showed the number of crashes involving overseas drivers in Otago had decreased - from 70 in 2012 to 55 in 2013.

Despite that, tourist drivers have featured in several crashes around the Wakatipu area in recent months.

Three people were seriously injured early in March when an SUV, driven by an Israeli man, crossed the centre line and collided with a sedan at Gibbston.

The 60-year-old driver admitted six charges of careless driving causing injury and was fined $1000, court costs $130 and ordered to pay $1000 to each of the three people injured.

On March 26, two Singaporean tourists were flown to Dunedin Hospital after the rental car in which they were travelling hit a tree on the Glenorchy-Paradise Rd.

On Waitangi Day, a vehicle driven by a Chinese man crashed into the Queenstown Playcentre playground after he confused the accelerator with the brake.

Ms Rossiter said yesterday she was impressed at the level of commitment shown to addressing the problem of tourist drivers, particularly by Queenstown Lakes Mayor Vanessa van Uden.

''She's very, very keen to see action.

''Mayor van Uden sent out a real call to action around the visitor driving problem here.''

One of the options discussed yesterday was to seal shoulders of roads for another 1m-2m, decreasing the risk of drivers losing control on gravel verges.

While a driver drifting too far to the left may still result in a crash, the extra seal may lessen the likelihood of that crash being serious or fatal.

''The idea came out, and we'll explore it more, about looking at a few key routes, like State Highways 6 and 94.''

The next step was to establish a regional governance group that would include Ms van Uden, NZTA southern director Jim Harland and New Zealand Police.

An action plan would be developed to focus on the tourist as a customer - and how to ''enhance'' the customer experience on New Zealand roads.

The governance group would establish working groups.

Resources would then be allocated.

Ms Rossiter said the project was being led by NZTA and ACC, both investment partners.

While it was a three-to-five-year project, Ms Rossiter expected changes to be made within three years.

Last month, Tourism New Zealand and Air New Zealand joined forces to target Chinese drivers in New Zealand, screening an in-flight driver safety video on Air New Zealand international flights from China and Hong Kong.

An NZTA leaflet - ''What's different about driving in New Zealand'', with a Chinese translation - was available from hire companies, airports and tourism organisations.

Tourism New Zealand had also supported the development of another video targeting campervan drivers, also translated into Chinese.

Its Chinese visitor brochure, available at immigration counters at Auckland International Airport,

had a driver safety information section.

Ms van Uden could not be reached for comment last night.