Judge joins calls for tourist driver tests

A district court judge has joined the growing number of professionals calling for tourist driving tests. In sentencing a Chinese driver whose rental car collided with another vehicle near Queenstown, Judge Kevin Phillips said this was a "classic case" of why tourists should sit a driving test. Describing the man’s driving as “atrocious”, Judge Phillips said:

“It's a classic case of why people need to have examinations done before taking control of powerful rental cars on New Zealand roads."*

Clive Matthew-Wilson, editor of the car review website dogandlemon.com, agrees, saying:

“The government appears to be more concerned about the profits of tourism operators than about road safety.”

“There have been an ongoing series of tragedies involving foreign drivers in rental vehicles. Yet the government's response to date has mostly been to hand out brochures and stickers telling foreigners to drive safely. Clearly, this is not working.”

Matthew-Wilson recently released a position paper titled: Driven to distraction: a submission on reducing tourist accidents, which called for drastic changes to the way vehicles are rented out to foreign drivers.

These include banning the rental of vehicles to drivers who have arrived in the country within 24 hours, making recently-arrived travelers pass a test to prove they’re safe behind the wheel and changing the road conditions to make accidents less likely.

Under Matthew-Wilson’s proposed changes, rental companies could be prosecuted if they rented a vehicle to a person who was incapable of driving it safely.

Matthew-Wilson adds:

“Tourists can currently rent a vehicle at the airport after an 18-hour flight. This is crazy. It is now universally accepted that driving while tired is as dangerous as driving while drunk.”

Matthew-Wilson also wants all recent arrivals in this country to pass an interactive driving test before renting a vehicle. He does not believe such a test would breach New Zealand’s obligations under the International Driver’s License treaty, because it would apply to all drivers – including locals returning home from a long flight.

Matthew-Wilson adds:

“There is already an online test available, but it’s optional, and I doubt it will really separate those who really should and shouldn’t be using our roads.”

Matthew-Wilson wants rumble strips installed before major intersections to warn drivers as they approach. He also wants multilingual signage on high risk roads and especially at intersections, to warn drivers which side of the road they should be on, and which way they should look.

“A significant number of tourists are from countries where motorists drive on the other side of the road. When tourists from these countries are tired or scared, they tend to veer onto the wrong side. Also, when these tourists are coming up to major intersections, they often look the wrong way, which can have fatal consequences.”

* Shanghai-based Yichen Sun, 27, admitted a charge of dangerous driving relating to two incidents near Queenstown earlier this month.