Let us remove poor drivers: police

Police should be given the power to remove drivers deemed incompetent from New Zealand roads, Queenstown's top police officer says.

Senior Sergeant John Fookes made the comment yesterday during an inquest in Queenstown before designated Coroner Richard McElrea into the deaths of Grant John Roberts (43), of Timaru, and Dennis Michael Pederson (54), of Tauranga.

Snr Sgt Fookes said his personal and professional view was if police had the ability to forbid drivers and seize their licences, it would ''significantly ... contribute towards the safety of road users''.

The two men were killed on November 26, 2012, after their motorcycles collided with a rental vehicle driven by a Chinese national on State Highway 8, about 20km north of Tarras.

Investigations found the driver, Kejia Zheng (20), had ''negligible'' independent driving experience; had never operated a right-hand-drive car; had never driven on the left side of the road; and was unlikely to have ever driven faster than 40kmh, the speed limit on undivided Chinese highways.

Snr Sgt Fookes told Mr McElrea yesterday the number of Chinese drivers on roads in the Queenstown Lakes had ''noticeably'' increased - along with the number of reported crashes and complaints involving Chinese drivers.

A common factor appeared to be ''the inability of a proportion of these drivers to have proper control of their hired motor vehicle''.

''It's at the point where my staff will comment to me, quite frankly ... they are far more wary than they used to be.

''They are no longer surprised at all in stopping a rental car ... to find a Chinese national driving it, or indeed an Indian national.''

Queenstown police responded to complaints ''daily, usually several times a day'' relating to driving behaviour on State Highway 6 between the Remarkables Ski Area access road and Kingston.

His staff patrolled that stretch as a ''high priority'' and were directed to assess whether problem drivers were capable of having proper control of the vehicle.

Those deemed incapable often had their contracts with rental companies cancelled, but nothing prevented a driver getting a car from another company.

Snr Sgt Fookes said that until recently, his staff had used sections 21 and 121 of the Land Transport Act to forbid an individual from driving.

''The legal implications of this are currently under review and this is not an option at present.''

Section 21 related to hazards being removed from a road, while section 121 related to the ability of a driver to exercise proper control.

''We linked those two sections together ... [to] remove people from the road.

''Certain legal opinion is that we were not able to do that.

''That would appear to be where a significant [gap] exists.''

At present, police could only forbid an individual from driving by arresting them for a qualifying offence, such as dangerous driving, and imposing a bail condition.

If a driver was incompetent but had not reached the threshold to be charged, police had ''no power'' to forbid them to drive.

''Practically day in, day out, staff would find it far easier to be effective ... if they were able to forbid that person from driving until such time as there was independent examination of their ability to drive.''

After yesterday's inquest, acting area commander Inspector Andrew Burns told the Otago Daily Times the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) was in the ''early stages'' of a project to address the issues raised.

The project would focus on the West Coast and popular tourist routes in the southern South Island.

''Enforcement [of problem drivers] on its own won't work.''

Insp Burns said the project would probably look at several options, including further education at the point of hire.

NZTA Transport Officers manager Dermot Harris, of Dunedin, told Mr McElrea the project would consider crash analysis about tourist drivers, information about vehicle types, and the risk visiting drivers posed.

''There will be no quick fix,'' Mr Harris said.

''We want visitors to have the freedom to explore our country, but to do so in a safe way.''

This week, NZTA and Tourism New Zealand launched driving video footage on inbound Air New Zealand flights from China.

It is also available on TNZ's Chinese-language consumer website and other Chinese websites, in the hope of reaching tourists planning and booking trips online.

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