Tourist driver's claims denied

Apex Car Rentals has denied allegations it rented a vehicle to an Indian national without giving advice about driving on New Zealand roads.

Vinod Deviprasad Singh (49), property adviser of India, admitted dangerous driving before Judge Michael Turner in the Queenstown District Court yesterday, following numerous complaints about his driving on Monday.

In court yesterday, Singh, through his lawyer and an associate, said he had not been advised about driving in New Zealand at the point of hire and while he had ''noticed'' the yellow centre lines, he ''has not understood'' not to cross them.

Judge Turner then asked if, in hindsight, ''it would be better for you to have been told about painted lines on our roads and what they meant and how you're expected to drive in our country before you're given a rental car?''.

Singh's associate said that would have been of assistance.

Judge Turner said the situation Singh found himself in was becoming ''all too common'' in New Zealand, particularly in courts in the lower South Island.

''People from overseas with an international driver's licence are automatically entitled to drive in this country [when] they know nothing about our road rules, our road signs ... and most likely know little about the state of our roads.

''This country has an entirely different driving culture from the country you come from.

''Your offending has not been brought about by deliberate intent, but by you not knowing what our road rules are and what's expected of you.''

Prosecuting Sergeant Ian Collin said Singh and his wife and their children, aged 15 and 8, arrived in Christchurch on May 1 with another family.

Singh hired a car from Apex Rentals at Christchurch International Airport to travel in convoy with the other family around the South Island.

About 3.55pm on Monday, Singh was travelling on State Highways 8 and 6 between Beaumont and Queenstown and was seen to cross the centre line numerous times and to pass on double yellow lines.

Four times he crossed entirely into the opposite lane, at one point causing two oncoming vehicles to take evasive action.

He was observed driving straight on blind corners; he pulled out in front of a motorist near the Roaring Meg, on the Kawarau Gorge road; driving erratically; and driving the vehicle without using headlights despite fading light.

After being stopped by police, he conceded ''at times he had driven on the wrong side of the road'', stating the ''corners were too sharp''.

Duty solicitor Sonia Vidal said Singh had been driving for 20 years and had no previous convictions, but he did not fully understand what yellow and white lines in the middle of New Zealand roads meant.

''He wasn't aware of the alarm and concern he was causing by his actions.''

Singh was fined $400, court costs $130 and disqualified for six months, with Immigration New Zealand to be advised and fines and costs to be paid before he leaves the country this month.

Apex Car Rentals reservations manager Tony Quinlivan, of Christchurch, when spoken to by the Otago Daily Times after sentencing, denied Singh had not been informed about road rules.

Mr Quinlivan said Singh had been briefed verbally about driving in New Zealand and had received written information - ''What's different about driving in New Zealand'' - which he took with him when he hired the vehicle. Advice given included to keep left, abide by road signs and speed limits and not cross double yellow lines.

Under ''Overtaking'', the leaflet says, ''You must not cross a solid yellow line on your side of the road as this indicates it's too dangerous to overtake.''

Mr Quinlivan said every person who hired a vehicle was given the same information - the written instructions were given to them along with their rental contract..

''We emphasise to people there are road rules ... we emphasise the most important things, speed limits, road signs, keep left.

''Every rental car company is going to do exactly the same thing.''

Mr Quinlivan said the general issue of tourist drivers on New Zealand roads was of ''tremendous concern to the entire rental industry''.

''We're wanting people to come here and have a great experience. If there are areas where we think their experience can be improved, then we will most certainly be looking at ways to [do that].''

Last week, about 45 people from agencies, including rental car companies, ACC, the New Zealand Transport Agency, Tourism New Zealand and the Tourism Industry Association met in Queenstown to discuss the issue.