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Stay Safe on NZ Roads

Posted on November 15, 2017 – Driving


Recently, the news have reported a crazy story: a young female tourist drove erratically along a South Island mountain pass, swerving onto the wrong side of the road and ignoring honking and light flashes from other drivers for 50km. In the end, the car pulled over and a concerned citizen took the keys from the driver until the police arrived, despite her and her husband’s protests.

This isn’t the first report of such occurrence. So-called ‘vigilante’ locals have been increasingly infuriated by tourists’ bad driving and have been taking matters in their own hands by confiscating car keys from the offending drivers. Although New Zealand’s Prime Minister John Key has condemned the practice as ‘not sensible’, it is easy to see why people would be pushed to do this in the wake of several serious accidents caused by unsafe driving by foreign holidaymakers.

Interestingly, the majority of road accidents involving tourists seem to be happening on the South Island's West Coast. While the national average for crashes involving foreigners is 6%, it rises to 37% in the Westland District. Of those accidents, 75% of them were found to be the fault of the foreign driver. The police have also cautioned against key confiscating which is particularly tricky for them to manage as there is no legal framework for this practice.

They have also warned against well-intentioned New Zealanders going too far as, in some cases, Kiwis have been known to resort to violence to express their displeasure of tourists’ bad driving, putting themselves on the wrong side of the law.

In 2015, 30,000 New Zealanders signed a petition which was taken before Parliament, asking for tourists to be forced to sit a safety test before being allowed on the road. However, it was ruled that it wasn’t the responsibility of rental car companies to evaluate drivers’ competency and it could therefore not be passed into law.

Safety rules on NZ roads for tourists

The NZ Transport Agency (NZTA) has put together a useful webpage for visitors to NZ, pointing out that the main causes of accidents are fatigue, being under the influence of alcohol, drugs or medication, speed, weather and distraction.


Fatigue is one of the major causes of accidents throughout the world. Falling asleep at the wheel for even a second can turn into a tragedy, while driving when being simply tired will lower your ability to concentrate and make decisions, and your response time to changing traffic conditions.

If you are coming to New Zealand for a holiday, you might have to deal with jetlag and it is important to let your body adjust and not rush behind a wheel as soon as you land. Plan to stay put at least a day. You can always visit nearby attractions using public transport and taxis.

The NZTA also warns against underestimating distances. New Zealand is bigger than you might think and the last thing you want is to be caught in the middle of nowhere, tired, with another 6 hours of driving ahead of you. During the low season, you may be able to find last-minute accommodation and turn your trip short, but during busy holidays, it may prove impossible.

The most sensible thing to do is to use websites and Apps indicating distances and driving times when you are planning your trip. You don’t need to go any further than Google Maps, although it does tend to indicate times slightly shorter than journeys take in reality.

If you are alone, make sure you take a break every 2 hours and stop for a power nap if necessary. If there are other drivers in the car, take turns.

Alcohol, Drugs or Medication

The current legal alcohol limit is 250 micrograms per litre of breath or 50 milligrams per 100ml of blood. Depending on your weight, you could be over the limit with a single drink.

Drugs are obviously not a good idea if you are intending to drive, but you should also be wary of innocuous medication that can make you drowsy such as motion sickness medication or some painkillers. Always ask your doctor for advice and, in doubt, err on the side of caution. It is illegal to drive while under the influence of medicine, even legally prescribed ones.


Speed is the single biggest factor in accidents on New Zealand roads.

You should, obviously, always respect speed limits but also remember that they are ‘ideal conditions’ limits. If it rains, if there is snow or fog, if the road is narrow, if its surface is uneven or you are travelling on dirt roads, you will need to slow down further.

Remember that speed will affect the impact of the crash on people inside the car as well as pedestrians and even a few kilometres above the limit can be the difference between life and death.


Tourists often think of New Zealand as paradise on earth – and who could blame them?! - but the weather isn’t always blue skies and bright sun. In the winter, it can be as wet as anywhere else, and if you go to a mountainous area, you will encounter snow and ice.

There is also a phenomenon called ‘summer ice’. During dry spells, dust, dirt and oil can accumulate on the road surface and become very slippery when it does rain. The most dangerous time is when it has just started to get wet and before it is washout out. The result are road conditions similar to black ice. So if it starts raining when you are driving, slow right down.

Driver distraction

Checking your mobile, fiddling with the radio and looking at the landscapte can distract you and cause you to have an accident. If you need to do any of those things, find somewhere safe to stop first.

If you are thinking of importing your car into NZ for your holiday contact McCullough on +64 9 309 1163 or request a quote.

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