Safe driving tag trial launched

New Zealand Transport Agency southern regional director Jim Harland (left) and Rental Vehicle Association chief executive Barry Kidd fit the first steering wheel tag to a rental vehicle at Queenstown Airport yesterday. Photo by Tracey RoxburghThe first of 20,000 steering wheel tags, to reinforce key road safety messages to tourist drivers visiting New Zealand, was fitted in Queenstown yesterday to launch a two-month trial.

If successful the project will be rolled out nationally.

The steering wheel tag is the first of 42 initiatives proposed by a governance group, formed earlier this year as part of a project aimed at improving road safety for tourists, as part of the Government's Safer Journeys strategy and also introduces the ''Safe System'' to New Zealand.

That recognised while mistakes were inevitable, deaths and serious injuries from road crashes were not.

At yesterday's launch, attended by representatives from the New Zealand Transport Agency, Tourism Industry Association, New Zealand Police, the Queenstown Lakes District Council, the Rental Vehicle Association and rental company representatives, Queenstown Mayor Vanessa van Uden said the group had a complex plan of short, medium and long-term objectives which it would continue to pursue.

NZTA southern regional director Jim Harland said the tags were designed in conjunction with the agency's traffic behaviour unit and external consultants who specialised in transport behaviour.

Because the tags would be removed from the steering wheels of rental cars it meant the driver had to ''do something''.

At present the tags were printed only in English, with clear images, but if the trial was successful they would be printed in other languages, including Chinese and Indian.

During the trial, drivers would be surveyed and information collected from police to see what effect, if any, the tags had.

''Sometimes we just have to back ourselves ... We believe it can [help],'' Mr Harland said.

Otago rural acting area commander Inspector Andrew Burns said the tag was ''probably the best thing I've seen''.

Police began noticing ''driving behaviour that was outside the norm'' from a small group of people, Insp Burns said''[It was] a very small group of people, but the risk that we saw ... was very, very high.''

Part of the problem was police had limited opportunities to interact with tourist drivers and influence their driving behaviour, he said.

Rental Vehicle Association chief executive Barry Kidd said the issues were complex and there was no ''golden bullet''.

''Improving driver safety is an important issue ... It's about keeping overseas drivers safe [and] the local community safe from unsafe and dangerous drivers who are either ignorant [about] New Zealand driving, or choosing to ignore it.''