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The Press-News column Nov 11

Frenzy over Tourist Drivers.

As the news broke like a thunder-clap on Thursday about a triple road fatality in Luggate, you could virtually see the collective thought bubble balloon across the country. “ I bet they’re tourists.” Upon confirmation, the tumbrels of talkback revved up, social media was pumping and press releases were being frantically fired out, as the over-reactionaries let rip. Why are we are we such a nation of knee-jerkers and drama queens? By high noon on Friday, the enflamed public discourse had condemned all overseas drivers as a virulent pest with frenzied demands for a blanket ban on tourists taking the wheel until they had passed a New Zealand driving test. Even the Dog & Lemon Guide editor, Clive Matthew-Wilson, wants to sledgehammer all ariivals, both foreigners and returning Kiwis, by forcing them to sit a cognitive test, when they pick up a rental car. Along with 94 other nations, New Zealand is a long-standing signatory of the International Convention on Road Traffic, which allows foreign visitors to temporarily use their nation-of-origin licence, as long as it’s valid.  It’s a sure bet that if we shifted the goal posts, a retaliatory tit-for-tat testing war would hit Kiwis hiring rental cars overseas. How peverse, how pointless.  We’re far better placed taking a targeted, pro-active approach. Earlier this year, I suggested Tourism New Zealand and Air New Zealand, commission an in-flight  road safety video, for inbound passengers. They did. In fact, homebound last week from Hong Kong, I noticed a lovely Chinese couple attentively watching the video. Similarly, the police have admirably stepped up their presence at Christchurch Airport, engaging with tourists as they pick-up their rentals.  Just last month, the New Zealand Transport Agency and the rental vehicle industry signed off a comprehensive best practise driver safety accord. I believe some further practical measures should be implemented. Make it a statutory offence not to have rested for twelve hours, before hiring a car following a long-haul flight, resulting in instant disqualification and vehicle removal. Place the onus on the hirer, to enforce it. Make rental vehicles readily identifiable, with a big red R on the rego plate, so everyone can be more vigilant. As much as their room for improvement, the fact remains overseas drivers are not ebola-on-four-wheels, as the blood and thunder brigade make out. In 2013, overseas drivers caused or accounted for 2% of our road toll.  You are 49 times more  likely to be killed by a local. With over two million tourists visiting New Zealand annually, of which 300,000 hire vehicles, it’s a brush fire of tragedy – not an inferno.

Mike’s weekly current affairs column, as first published in The Press. November 11.

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