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Monday, March 16, 2015

Driving in New Zealand . . .

the following is a column I wrote for publication today, and a serious problem in my home country:

Tourist drivers seen as hazards in NZ

By Tracie Barrett

I had a close encounter with a Chinese gentleman in New Zealand over Spring Festival, although I didn’t initially know he was Chinese.

I was driving a steep, twisting road above Lake Hawea in Central Otago – a stunningly beautiful area and one I know well. My speed was just under the limit to allow for the challenging road and possible hazards.

Judging by the anecdotes of friends and stories in local media, the most frequent hazards on New Zealand’s roads these days are tourist drivers. During Lunar New Year, many of those were Chinese.

In that encounter, a large motor home pulled out to pass on a blind corner in a series of twists and turns, then started to pull back in before being even halfway past my vehicle.

Primed for such driving when I saw the rental vehicle in my rear view mirror, I braked and the huge piece of hard metal and motor missed my car by mere centimeters.

Five minutes later, I rounded another turn to see the offending driver pulled over at a lookout point, enjoying the view with no idea how close he had come to crushing my vehicle and myself into a rock wall. I pulled alongside, ascertained he was Chinese but spoke English and explained what he had just done and impressed on him that the beast he was driving was much wider and longer than he realized and that he would kill someone if he continued driving that way.

I hope he did not, but in the two weeks I was home, eight people died in vehicle accidents involving tourists. One of these was a 5-year-old girl, killed when a pickup truck driven by a Chinese tourist collided head-on with the station wagon her family was in. The driver has been charged with dangerous driving causing death and four counts of dangerous driving causing injury, as the girl’s parents and two sisters were hospitalized after the crash.

Obviously, not all road accidents in New Zealand are caused by tourists, and not all bad tourist drivers are Chinese or Asian. However, as more Chinese visit New Zealand (the number more than doubled between 2010 and 2014 and is expected to continue growing), their presence is becoming more noticeable and there is a growing call for changes in the law to keep inexperienced drivers off the roads.

That might have saved two motorcyclists killed by a 20-year-old Chinese woman in 2012 on the second day of her New Zealand holiday. At the inquest last year, it was revealed that the driver had less than one month’s driving experience since getting her license in China and had not driven in at least 10 months.

Until the law is changed, I expect to hear of many more such accidents and more incidents of what has become frequent recently as locals take the law into their own hands – taking the keys off erratic drivers and leaving them stranded on the roadside.


  1. Not having driven in New Zealand (or China for that matter), I can't comment on the drivers there. But if you care to come too the good ol' US of A, I can show you drivers who genuinely believe that they are competing daily in NASCAR on our public roads (not especially well either).

  2. I've experienced that, but at least most do know how to drive, even tho they then do it badly. Having a license in Asia is no guarantee you can drive