The news in New Zealand is dominated lately by discussions about tourists, immigrants and car-accidents. Sadly all three are part of the same discussion. Leading up to the start of this discussion was a Dutch tourist who caused the death of three people while driving at the wrong side of the road. Six percent of all car accidents in New Zealand are caused by overseas drivers, either tourists or immigrants. I can still remember my first time driving around in New Zealand. Driving away from a parking spot along a state highway, not a car insight, and before you know it you are driving on the wrong side of the road.
Even now, after four years in this country, I still sometimes put on the window wipers instead of the indicators. Or try to shift gears with my right hand, only to find nothing is there but the door handle. For me, the most dangerous situations occur when I have to respond quickly and my instincts kick in. The downfall for first time drivers in New Zealand are empty roads. If there is traffic on the road, you can just follow their lead and you will end up in the correct lane. However, when the road is empty you are the one who has to decide which lane is the correct one and it is oh so easy to slip into your conditioned patterns of driving right.

Especially the Mainland (South Island), because they have the most empty roads, have arrows painted on the road to let you know where to drive. Every rental car has a sticker in it saying ‘drive left’. Flights from China show on board videos explaining the basic road rules. The Government is doing stuff to make overseas drivers aware of our roads and road rules. But I do argue they could do more. For instance, a compulsory 15 or 30 min simulator drive before you can rent a car or campervan. Or when you are waiting in line for the passport control or the biosecurity line, show a video about our roads and road rules.

On the other hand you, as an overseas driver, should take responsibility for your own and others safety as well. Whenever you travel to New Zealand for a holiday or to stay here make sure you: ·

  • prepare yourself before you travel to New Zealand about driving left. It only takes a couple of minutes to search the internet, ·
  • rest when you are tired, ·
  • drive sensible distances each day (no more than 300-350km). On most New Zealand roads I will take longer to drive a 100km then you are used to.

I talked with someone the other day who thought that because we drive left you have to give way to all traffic from the left. Well, not true, you give way to traffic coming from your right, just as in countries who drive on the right side of the road. He already was in New Zealand, but had not driven a car yet. Luckily, I might add. Bottom line, he should have known about this before he hopped on his plane.

Stay safe!