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Tourist Road Safety - Questions and Answers

29 June 2004

Tourist Road Safety in Otago and Southland Research – Questions and Answers

Why did LTSA commission this research?

We commissioned the research from the University of Otago to help us proactively manage the road safety of the increasing number of overseas tourist drivers.

Nationally, in 2003, people identified as overseas tourists were just 1.6 percent of all drivers involved in fatal or injury crashes in New Zealand. This means that of about 17,000 drivers who crashed on New Zealand roads last year, 265 of them were overseas tourists. This is a small figure compared to the crashes involving New Zealand drivers.

But we also know that the proportion of crashes where an overseas driver (including tourists, students and migrants) is involved is larger in key tourist regions of New Zealand. For example, in Otago 8% of the crashes involved an overseas driver, in Southland the figure was 9%, the West Coast 16%, Nelson and Marlborough 7% and Northland 7% . (Within regions, rates may be higher in areas of high tourist concentration). Between 2001 and 2003, 6% of crashes nationally involved at least one overseas driver.

There are over 600,000 tourists driving rental cars (537,606) or campervans (73,069) on our roads each year. This number will increase with the projected 5.7% growth per year in tourists to 2009. It is important for everyone’s road safety that, in co-operation with other agencies, we are working now to help tourists have a safe driving experience.

Crashes involving overseas tourists also risk affecting the overseas tourism industry and, as a result, the wider economy. New Zealand’s reputation as a good and safe driving destination, which this research highlights, is part of attracting the overseas visitors who contribute nearly $6.5 billion to our economy each year. As the number of overseas tourists grows, so does the potential risk of an overseas tourist-related crash attracting international media headlines and damaging New Zealand’s image as a desirable and safe tourist destination.

Working now to manage overseas tourist road safety makes sound economic sense.

Why are tourist drivers being studied as a separate group?

We have also carried out research into ways to improve communication about road safety with international students, migrants and refugees. We are currently working on developing new education resources and finding new ways of delivering them.

Tourists were studied as a separate group because they drive for different reasons, drive for a short period of time and travel to different parts of the country, compared to groups like overseas students. The ways of reaching them with education or engineering initiatives will be different to other groups of overseas drivers.

How much of a problem are tourist drivers on New Zealand roads?

The best indicator we have is the statistics described in the answer to question one. Nationally, tourist drivers represent small numbers compared to New Zealand drivers involved in crashes. But when we look at regional trends we can see the percentage of crashes, involving all types of overseas drivers, rises in key tourist regions around the country. This relates to the greater proportion of tourists in the driving population of these areas.

Why was Otago/Southland chosen as an area of study?

Otago and Southland were selected because they have high visitor numbers travelling to significant tourist attractions such as the Southern Lakes and Milford Sound. In both regions, the percentage of crashes involving an overseas driver was significantly higher than the national average.

Why do overseas drivers crash?

Between 2001-2003, the fact that the driver was from overseas was a contributing factor to the crash for only 16% of overseas drivers. This means that factors such as driving on the wrong side of the road or looking the wrong way when pulling out of an intersection, which relate to the driver being from overseas, don’t show up in the majority of overseas driver crashes.

But the overseas driver factor is one of several major contributors to this type of crash, along with other major factors similar to those for New Zealand drivers. They include drivers losing control, failing to give way, failing to notice other road users, inattention and travelling too fast for the conditions.

Of about 1700 overseas drivers involved in crashes between 2001-2003, two thirds of them were in single vehicle crashes or had primary responsibility for the crash. This is slightly higher than the rate for New Zealand drivers over the same period.

What are the main findings of the research?

The findings challenge stereotypes about inexperienced tourist drivers. The majority in the study were experienced drivers, aged between 25 and 44 who drove frequently in their home countries. A large majority had also previously driven in New Zealand or other places outside of their home country.

Key findings in the research included that for the majority of tourists, few anticipated or experienced difficulties on New Zealand roads.

A large number of tourists had no concerns about driving in New Zealand. Many described our driving conditions as ‘good’, our traffic volumes as ‘light, quiet or low’ especially compared to their home countries.

The greatest difficulties tourists had with driving in New Zealand roads related to driving on the left, the give away rule at unmarked intersections and unfamiliarity with New Zealand roads. Winding and narrow roads were a problem for tourists in both summer and winter. In winter their key difficulties centered on ice and snow and travelling on winding roads in poor condition. One-lane bridges, gravel roads and road repairs were also highlighted as problems.

In general, the tourists rated New Zealand drivers as relatively courteous and safe. However, some individual tourists reported they’d had a negative driving experience in New Zealand.

The tourists generally knew some of the main New Zealand road rules and the penalties for breaking them, but the rule causing most uncertainty was our give way rule at unmarked intersections.

A low number of tourists searched for information on our road rules before driving. This applied across all nationalities except Asian countries.

What will the LTSA be doing as a result of the findings?

We need to find ways of encouraging overseas drivers to think about the differences in New Zealand roads, weather and road rules compared to their own countries, before they take the wheel. To do this effectively we will need to work closely with the New Zealand visitor industry, including rental car companies.

We will thoroughly review our education material for overseas tourists and the way it’s being distributed. The research highlights that we’ve got a short amount of time to reach tourists before they start driving, so a coordinated approach with the visitor industry will be an essential part of making a difference.

We aim to form an advisory group made up of representatives from the visitor industry, and other agencies, to look at the problems this study highlights and identify effective local and national solutions.

We also need to work with roading agencies such as Transit New Zealand and local authorities to see if improved signage and engineering solutions will help the driver once they’ve started driving. Enforcement will be a key to make sure that tourists carry the message home that New Zealand’s speed limit and other rules should be obeyed.

The initiatives taken should also help Kiwi drivers. For example, an Aucklander in Queenstown for skiing may be as unfamiliar with snow and ice or winding mountain roads, as an overseas tourist would be.

Will initiatives in response to the research, be limited to Otago / Southland?

We’ll be looking for both local and nationally effective initiatives. This is because we know that many Otago Southland tourists begin their driving well before they reach the region. We also know that overseas drivers crash in many other areas of the country. It is important that we reach them with education before they take the wheel of the rental car or campervan and that they know from the beginning to obey New Zealand’s road rules.

Can I get a copy of the research?

Yes, it is available on www.ltsa.govt.nz. Some print copies are also available where web access isn’t an option.


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