It is always sad when people die on our roads, be they locals or tourists. Many die as a result of stupid decisions, like speeding, drinking alcohol and consuming other illegal substances.
In the last year we have also witnessed many tourists dying on our roads, nearly always in the countryside. Many of these deaths could have been avoided. That these people come to enjoy our wonderful scenery and people is great. We welcome them with open hearts and yes there is a financial gain for us. We do not want them crashing their cars and minibuses on our roads; ending what should have been a holiday of a lifetime so often ends up as taking their lives. Whys is this?
Our country has a typography that makes road construction expensive and maintaining these roads also has a high cost. With our small population that makes it harder to raise the taxes to pay for the safe and enduring construction of these roads. New Zealanders are used to these roads (although they also manage to meet untimely deaths when their wits are otherwise engaged!) and for the most part are ready for the challenges that narrow, winding roads present. We know to adjust our speed and driving approach to such roads. Indeed the road toll has been going down for many years as NZers become more responsible and attune themselves to the roads in NZ.
This trend for fewer deaths amongst NZers is not matched by our tourist friends. They happily rent campervans and cars and increasingly they are heading out without adapting their driving to the new conditions they face. Some are from countries where Autobahns have much higher speeding limits and should I say it, populations who we are told have a more responsible approach to driving and text for the right to drive are more stringent. Car ownership may also be less for the citizens of such countries.
Tourists may also come from countries where they drive on the other side of the road. In NZ we drive on the left (our cars are right hand drive). Perhaps at that ‘crucial’ moment, they are distracted and veer onto the other side of the road and meet either a steep bank or an oncoming vehicle; either another car or a huge logging truck. We share our country roads with large trucks, taking our exports to the ports around NZ. (I must say that getting rid of rail, lines is a stupid move in light of the these tragic deaths) On windy in our rural areas this is a potent mix and one that drivers must be constantly aware of.
How much information is given to our tourists by rental companies? I would hate to think that they are simply given the keys, denuded of their money and set on their way. Somehow, I think that my description may well be the norm. Do we have to wait for the Government to legislate to make ‘informing torsions (and others) of the perils of NZ’s roads. Apart from the moral obligation to do so, is there not a ‘financial’ impetus to keep our visitors safe. NZ is quite unique in that it provides a free Accident Compensation system for visitors, whereby they do not incur any costs when they meet with an accident (or a large truck!), both for their medical care and for their rehabilitation. Surely keeping them safe would be more beneficial to us than paying out millions in healthcare and rehab.
Let’s address this problem and save lives and keep our national wealth in our pockets.