Overseas driver dangers

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Results from a study carried out in 2016 of overseas drivers in New Zealand has provided insights into issues that highlight the need for new rules to reduce accidents. Researcher and Waikato Institute of Technology (Wintec) academic staff member Dr Hyun-Chan Kim was interested in the correlation between New Zealand’s rapidly increasing tourism figures and increasing accidents. He worked with two of his engineering students to conduct 205 interviews with overseas drivers at Auckland Airport and i-Sites along tourist routes.

“We wanted to find out why overseas drivers involved in accidents had a higher injury rate and come up with some solutions. So, we explored the driving behaviour of overseas drivers to identify the key causes from internal and external factors, and compared it with existing data,” he explained: “This research challenges popular perceptions of who, how and why accidents are caused and based on our findings, we recommend that tailored communications to tourists intending to drive here before they get behind the wheel would be more effective than current practices and guidelines.”

According to the results, overseas drivers cause 1-1.4 per cent of road crashes in New Zealand, which means close to 99 per cent of accidents are caused by New Zealand drivers. However, the problem is the accidents tourists are involved in are statistically worse, often involving head-on collisions on rural, scenic roads.

The research revealed drivers over 30 years old tended to believe fatigue affected driving performance. This often happens once the driver is well out of the city and driving down rural roads.

“Typically,” continued Kim, “tourists are getting off a long flight and straight into a rental car and they are fine for a while, then fatigue sets in, they tire and this is when accidents can happen.”

The leading cause of accidents for overseas drivers is losing control, followed by failure to give way, not seeing another party until too late, cornering and driving too far on the left or right hand side of the road. For domestic drivers, the leading cause is also losing control, followed by not seeing another party, failure to give way, following too closely and lastly, cornering.

The results also indicated many Asian drivers found roundabouts challenging as they are rare in their home countries. Another factor is New Zealand’s weather and road conditions, with many overseas drivers finding mountainous roads, sharp corners, rough roads, fog, rain and snow difficult to navigate.

The results of the research by the Wintec team are consistent with data collected from 2,328 crashes related to overseas drivers from 2010 to 2014 extracted from the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) Crash Analysis System. NZTA statistics from 2013 and 2014 show that overseas drivers from six countries contributed to 55 per cent of accidents involving injury. Australians were the top offenders, followed by drivers from the UK, Germany, India, China and the US. As well, around 73 per cent of overseas visitors are taking the scenic route for their holidays and self-driving cars and campervans. The research reveals that while some issues are consistent with many tourists, others are specific to the socio-demographic characteristics of overseas drivers such as age, country of origin, and their experience driving in their country and New Zealand.