NZ road vigilantes targeting bad-driving tourists

NZ road vigilantes targeting bad-driving tourists

A car and a logging truck sit damaged after they collided head-on Feb 17 near Tokoroa, New Zealand. Three Americans were killed when their car crashed into the logging truck. Tourists driving on the wrong side of the road have prompted some New Zealanders to become “road vigilantes,” authorities said. (AP photo)
A car and a logging truck sit damaged after they collided head-on Feb 17 near Tokoroa, New Zealand. Three Americans were killed when their car crashed into the logging truck. Tourists driving on the wrong side of the road have prompted some New Zealanders to become “road vigilantes,” authorities said. (AP photo)

WELLINGTON — New Zealand police are urging motorists not to take the law into their own hands as anger mounts over tourists causing accidents on the nation’s roads.

At least five New Zealanders have confronted tourists over errant driving and confiscated their keys this year, according to media reports. The rising intolerance has been fuelled by a spate of fatal accidents involving foreigners unaccustomed to driving on the left or on narrow and winding rural roads.

"While the grief and anger at the recent tragedies on our roads is understandable, there is absolutely no place for vigilante behaviour," police commissioner Mike Bush said in a statement on Thursday. There have been "disturbing reports" of motorists taking the law into their own hands, in some instances resulting in "verbal abuse, assaults and bullying of people visiting our country," he said.

His warning echoes Prime Minister John Key, who this week stressed that the vast majority of road accidents are caused by New Zealanders. Overseas drivers were involved in about 6% of crashes on New Zealand roads in 2013, the latest data available from the Ministry of Transport show. They were deemed responsible for about 4.5% of crashes.

"If you look at accidents caused by people being on the wrong side of the road, while that's absolutely true that some of those are foreign drivers, it's equally true that a larger number are actually New Zealanders," Key told Radio New Zealand on March 3.

Keys confiscated

In February, a Chinese family on holiday in New Zealand had their keys confiscated by a motorist who saw their vehicle travelling on the wrong side of the road. The family, who had a baby in their car, was left stranded in a remote part of the South Island. In another incident last month, an agitated man punched a tourist in the head before taking his keys.

Tempers have flared after recent tragedies, such as the death of a five-year-old girl when a car driven by a Chinese national allegedly crossed the centre line and collided with the vehicle she was travelling in.

The government is bringing forward plans to improve road safety on a number of South Island roads, Associate Transport Minister Craig Foss said Thursday.

"Many people are concerned with poor driving behaviour on challenging roads in and around popular tourist destinations," Mr Foss said in a statement. "This work will improve safety for all road users, including the increasing number of overseas visitors choosing to explore the country by car."

The project includes more "no-passing" and "keep-left" markings on South Island roads, and rumble strips on the centre line of selected highways that alert drivers if they veer toward the wrong side. The work will now be fast-tracked to be completed by July 1, Mr Foss said.

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