Tourist Road Safety In New Zealand

Tourist Road Safety In Otago And Southland

Questions and Answers

Why did the Land Transport Safety Authority 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 more significant 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 in 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.

Over 600,000 tourists drive rental cars (537,606) or campervans (73,069) on our roads yearly. This number will increase with the projected 5.7% yearly tourist growth to 2009. Therefore, it is essential 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, consequently, the broader economy. New Zealand’s reputation as a good and safe driving destination, which this research highlights, is part of attracting overseas visitors who contribute nearly $6.5 billion annually to our economy. 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 researched ways to improve communication about road safety with international students, migrants, and refugees. In addition, we are currently developing new educational resources and finding new ways to deliver them.

Tourists were studied as a separate group because they drive for different reasons, for a short time, and travel to different parts of the country, compared to groups like overseas students. Therefore, how they reach them with education or engineering initiatives will differ from other groups of overseas drivers.

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

Our best indicator is the statistics described in answer to question one. Nationally, tourists represent fewer numbers than New Zealand drivers involved in crashes. But when we look at regional trends, we can see the percentage of hits involving all types of overseas drivers rising in key tourist regions around the country. Again, this relates to the more significant 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 traveling to significant tourist attractions such as the Southern Lakes and Milford Sound. In addition, 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 contributed 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 relates to the driver being from overseas, don’t appear in most overseas driver crashes.

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

Of about 1700 overseas drivers involved in crashes between 2001-2003, two-thirds were in single-vehicle crashes or had primary responsibility for the impact. 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 frequently drove in their home countries. Most had also previously gone to New Zealand or elsewhere outside their home country.

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

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

The most significant difficulties tourists had with driving on New Zealand roads related to driving on the left, the giveaway 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 critical difficulties centered on ice and snow and traveling on winding roads in poor conditions. One-lane bridges, gravel roads and road repairs were also highlighted as problems.

The tourists generally 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 leading New Zealand road rules and the penalties for breaking them, but the law causing the 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 must 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 have a short time to reach tourists before they start driving, so a coordinated approach with the visitor industry will be essential to making a difference.

We aim to form an advisory group 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. Finally, enforcement will ensure 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.

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 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. So it is essential that we get 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 Some print copies are also available where web access isn’t an option.

Source: Land Transport Safety Authority, New Zealand