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Mayor Boult Comment on Road Safety Initiatives

Like many in our community, I am deeply concerned about the horrific consequences of poor driving in our district that leads to accidents. I have been invited to take part in a public forum planned for Friday 31 in Queenstown and have accepted on the basis that this is a positive discussion about making our roads safer and not simply trading “war stories” about folk in rental cars.

I am greatly saddened at the recent death and injury on our roads suffered by members of our community and our visitors. The issue of foreign drivers has long been a passion for myself and my Council. I want to share that there is some very real progress being made. What I have learned is that the issues are complex. I know from the police, NZTA, and various sources, the causes are variable.

I also know there is a sense that international drivers are the reason for these terrible events. I accept there is deep-seated frustration that our visitors are taking to our roads in rental vehicles, sometimes ill-equipped for the environment and potentially ill-advised by the various rental companies. Yes, it is an enormous issue but not the only issue we need to address, including the way we drive. Our own growth in population by its very nature brings with it more cars on the roads. We need to consider our own actions behind the wheel and how we behave towards other drivers – whether they’re your neighbours or visitors to the district.

I welcome community discussion about this concerning issue. Our community is justifiably frustrated but we need to address the problem based on facts and not perception. I can’t condone criticism based on race or ethnicity. I do favour positive, urgent action aimed at implementing preventative measures.

The accident two weeks ago was the subject of a police investigation and has been heard in court. I understand the accused has pleaded guilty to one charge of careless driving causing death and two charges of careless driving causing injury. This is a tragic event that has changed the lives of everyone involved. I am aware of the consternation this accident has caused throughout the community, and I completely understand and share people's concern around public safety.

I was concerned to learn of the experiences of a Queenstown person who drove a sign written rental car to Christchurch recently. Despite following all the road rules, he was the victim of abusive gestures several times during the journey, simply because some people concluded he was a visitor. That does nothing to help the situation and gives a very unwelcoming, and possibly intimidating, impression of our country.

For my part I am committed to the Visiting Drivers Project which is currently focused on Otago, Southland and the West Coast. It involves representatives of central and local government, including the NZTA and the police, and the tourism industry, including rental vehicle companies. Several safety improvements have been made under the project with more planned. This is where I intend to continue to focus my work in this area.

Initiatives to date include educating travel agents overseas about driving in New Zealand so they can share this information with their customers; including driving information with visitor visas; showing driving videos on flights; ensuring rental vehicle companies and accommodation providers discuss safe driving with their customers and provide written and visual information; and attaching tags to rental vehicle steering wheels highlighting important safety messages.

Physical work has included road widening in places; more rumble strips including on the centre line; arrows indicating the correct lane to drive in; "no passing" lines; barriers; signs and billboards.

I believe the project group is making progress on improving safety. There is still a lot of work to do, but good initiatives are being implemented. This is an extremely important issue which I will continue champion.

Let’s also remember there is a lot of good work already in progress and ongoing to help improve safety on the road for all of us – both visitors and locals alike. The Council’s Speed Limit Bylaw review last year has identified a significant number of opportunities throughout the district to reduce speed limits around urban areas or high-risk roads which will begin to be implemented this year. We’re also looking to create more safe pull-off areas in visitor hot spots in partnership with NZTA which can ease some of the frustrations that can lead to risky overtaking manoeuvres.

The increasingly popular $2 Orbus service has seen growing numbers of passengers and improvements to the service which continues to provide a viable alternative to visitors needing to drive around Queenstown. And I continue to champion a regular bus service for the Upper Clutha to offer the same benefit.

I hope all of these initiatives, and a more tolerant approach, will continue to make the roads safer for all.

ENDS|KUA MUTU.

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