No serious road accident involving a visitor to this country represents good publicity for the tourism industry. It is, therefore, pleasing that sectors of the industry are going to some lengths to try to ensure last summer's high number of crashes involving overseas tourists is not repeated. Air New Zealand has announced two in-flight initiatives to help visitors understand local road rules. In addition, the Rental Vehicle Association has developed a voluntary code of practice to better screen and educate overseas drivers before they hire a car.
Anyone questioning the need for these initiatives need only cast their mind back to the start of the year. Tourists' involvement in accidents, several of them high-profile, had many people demanding special rules for them. There were even examples of vigilantism when dangerous driving was observed. These may have been as misguided as they were drastic, but the problem posed by overseas drivers was undeniable. Last year, they were found to be at fault in three-quarters of the 538 injury crashes and all 11 of the fatal accidents in which they were involved.
Buoyant tourism statistics suggest next summer's influx will be even greater than that of last year, when 465,000 visitors hired cars. That number is understandable because this country's generally low traffic density makes self-drive the best way to see New Zealand. But it must also be safe. That is where Air New Zealand's Driving in New Zealand app, which will be available on its in-flight entertainment system, should prove valuable. It will point out road rules, tips for driving locally, and provide information on conditions. The app will initially be in English, but other languages are to be added. The sooner this happens, the better, given the increasing number of non-English-speaking visitors. Happily, this is already the case with Air New Zealand's second initiative, a series of short videos highlighting our road rules and giving an in-depth guide to driving here. It would help if other airlines had similar initiatives. After all, they also benefit if road-safety issues do not cloud visitors' stays. Alternatively, tourists arriving on their flights could be handed a short note on the key road rules as they pass through customs.
Another side of the coin -- and possibly more effective, too -- is preventing visitors who are unprepared for the unfamiliar local conditions getting behind the wheel. That is where the rental vehicle code of practice comes in. It entails operators assessing a driver's experience, and provides procedures when they believe he or she falls short. In the interests of all who use the roads, this code should be embraced by all in the industry.
The response must not end there. It is equally important that the roading infrastructure is improved. Overseas drivers are, for example, not used to gravel on road shoulders. More median barriers would also help prevent head-on collisions when tourists revert to their usual side of the road. Such improvements will take longer to implement. What is already happening is, however, encouraging.