Kiwi driver test or BYO…do we need a “licence to tour”?

By Kelly Stock, Media and Communications Manager, Christchurch & Canterbury Tourism

21 March 2014

So there’s been quite a bit chatter in recent media about imposing a potential special tourist licence for visitors to New Zealand who are driving on our roads. This has been circulating for a while, but with the increase in the number of accidents involving foreign drivers in New Zealand it is gaining more publicity. "The World's Fastest Indian" seems to be no longer just a movie title!

So if New Zealand took this stand what would the impact be on visitor numbers to our little country? While “being at the end of the world” may be a great marketing proposition to sell the unspoiled nature and beauty of New Zealand, it also throws up a couple of large challenges in terms of time and cost to get here. Do we really want to put more barriers in the way for potential visitors? More and more independent travellers are choosing to have their own experience here in the South Island, driving around and taking in the sights they choose and avoiding the large tourist coaches.

The logistics seem difficult, and I’m not sure that bad driving is an issue that sits with tourists alone.

Kelly Stock, Media and Communications Manager

Realistically what kind of licence test would we be able to implement that would really benefit other drivers? Would it be a theory test? Would it be a physical competency test? Could a visitor take a test online while at home so that when they arrived off the plane they could just show they’d passed, pick up their rental car and head down to Lake Tekapo? But how would you know that it was actually the driver that took the test? Or maybe they’d have to sit a practical test at 1am after their flight has arrived and they've got through customs? The logistics seem difficult, and I’m not sure that bad driving is an issue that sits with tourists alone.

New Zealand driving conditions can be challenging at the best of times, even for experienced Kiwi drivers. It’s why we have a series of television ads, reminding us of some of the most basic rules out there. Remember these?

  • Drive to the conditions when they change reduce your speed.
  • Brake on the straight before it’s too late.
  • Only a fool breaks the two second rule.
  • Speed kills.
  • And the classic… If you drink and drive you’re a bl**dy idiot.

Seems like we all need to be reminded of these pretty basic rules on our roads, so maybe a simple start is that we also do this for tourists? Anyone giving visitors keys to a vehicle, should have standard documentation that emphasises some of our key road laws.

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  • Keep left.
  • Overtake ONLY when there’s enough clear road visible in front of you.
  • Open road speed limit is never over 100kph (not mph!).
  • In bad conditions slow down and turn your lights on.
  • And maybe even a few more Kiwi specific ones like not swerving for the stray possum on the road – think of the advertisement on TV at the moment – “It’s either us or the possum.”

Yes, there are some terrible drivers out there, both local AND visitors. We should absolutely do all we can to keep the number of accidents on our roads down, but let’s make sure our actions make a difference, and they don't impede attracting visitors to our country.


**Disclaimer. This is a personal voice from the author of the blog, and does not necessarily represent the official position of Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism.


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  • By Rosemary Brown 24/03/2014

    I think the great majority of drivers are responsible. There are some drivers who think it is ok to drive at 80-90 kmph thus holding up traffic. They say they want to take their time and enjoy the scenery. Campervans have this attitude as well and it causes problems. You can't see past them either because their vans are so high and they selfishly hog the road and quite often they travel with friends in groups of two to three vans or more.

    • By Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism 24/03/2014

      Thanks Rosemary, yes we agree - most drivers are responsible - so let's just see if we can increase those numbers!

  • By Marcus Puentener 24/03/2014

    A 'licence to tour' would be difficult to implement and may deter people from travelling independently. A 'code to drive', once they pick up a van is essential though. I think there needs to be some more responsibility from the hire companies- with advice on safety, freedom camping laws and waste. They appear to just take the money and send under prepared drivers off onto the road. Camper van drivers need to be more courteous, with slow driving, sudden stopping and travelling in convoy likely to upset local drivers, which leaves a bad feeling every time you see a big white van.

    • By Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism 24/03/2014

      Thanks Marcus. There definitely should be some kind of responsibility from companies to give safety advice alongside pointers for courtesy on New Zealand roads.

  • By Brenda Lord 24/03/2014

    It is great to see this being discussed. We are on the main road between ChCh & Lake Tekapo.
    What can we do...
    - paint more directional arrows on the road, leading into blind bends
    - improve documentation on safety and courtesy, using diagrams. (Multi lingual.)
    --Keep left is a major concern.
    --Have some guideline (for all drivers) about the need to pull-over safely (without kicking up stones) if x number of cars have banked up behind you. And do so when a safe stretch of road appears, rather than speed up on the straights.
    - car rental companies spend an extra 10 minutes explaining safety & courtesy advice for NZ roads. (that will hurt!)

    Also - who should take responsibility to let tourists know when major roads (like the Haast) are closed. We have spoken with many tourists who drove from ChCh over to the West Coast, then back again (because of road closure), because they had an appointment in Queenstown to get to.

    • By Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism 24/03/2014

      Great ideas Brenda!

  • By Gerry M Trott 24/03/2014

    I don't see a problem. Coming to drive on the "empty" roads of New Zealand is like a dream come true to the many visitors from the crowded UK and European Roads.
    Perhaps we could consider imposing Compulsory Third Party Insurance on ALL ROAD users. That would be a sensible start. Other nationals arriving here cannot believe that we do not have compulsory Third Party Insurance!

    • By Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism 24/03/2014

      Thanks for the comment Gerry. Third party insurance would definitely alleviate some of the concerns.

  • By John Cameron 24/03/2014

    I'm a tourism based business operator in Christchurch. I've travelled to India six times since 1989 and I love the country. I spent 9 months there in 1992 and covered 27,000 km by motorcycle from Goa to Leh, Leh to Calcutta (as it was pronounced and spelt then) to Madras (Chennai) and back to Goa where I finally parted with my Enfield Bullet 350cc motorcycle.
    In India, I learned, there is a very simple road rule. BIG is right and has right of way. This means trucks and buses rule over cars, cars rule over motorcycles and motorcycles rule over bicycles etc. If you are riding a motorcycle and a truck is coming toward, in your lane whilst overtaking a car, you, the motorcycle, need to get off the road!
    The Indian guy, fined recently for reckless driving on the Milford road, was simply driving as they do in India. To him he was doing nothing wrong, it's perfectly ok to pass on blind corners in India so long as you're 'sounding your horn'. If he had a bus coming toward him he'd swerve to the left to give way to the bus. If it was a car coming toward him, make it up as you go along, play 'chicken' and see what happens and if it was a motorcycle, no question, the car owns the road.
    So how the hell do we inform, educate and correct drivers with that ingrained attitude to driving in the face of the tsunami of self drive tourists coming to this country? These people come from a driver experience that is completely devoid of enforced road rules unless there is opportunity for Baksheesh for the cops. Corruption rules on their roads. Are they, the tourist self driver from such countries to blame for not comprehending and being held accountable for breaches of our road rules. When in Rome, otherwise many innocent NZ road users are at risk.

    • By Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism 25/03/2014

      We agree John, it is definitely a challenge no matter what way you look at at it. All these kinds of experiences are good to talk about to be able to understand better where the issues come from in order to get a better solution.

  • By Trent Yeo 25/03/2014

    This is an interesting article as there are many ways in which to cut up this very important issue. I think the main focus is that we do want FIT's to be travelling on the road as we enjoy in New Zealand. The fact is that we need to manage the safety of all drivers, cyclists and pedestrians on and around roads.

    I think it has been a classic situation where many parties are the touch points for a visitor but we have had little action considering the rising data of incidents and reports. It has been definitely been hard to identify one easy solution. We need to put this issue on the front foot and address directly with all parts of the equation.

    We (First Hand Productions and Auckland Airport) created this in quick response to the spate of incidents that came out of the last Chinese New Year holiday period in 2014.

    I believe there is more coming from Tourism New Zealand/NZTA/Air NZ also.

    We hope that we can positively reinforce the challenges and not just react with a 'stick approach' to managing safety. I hope that more people take responsibility for their part in saving people's lives and further to that help to create a positive travel experience in New Zealand.

    • By Christchurch and Canterbury Tourism 25/03/2014

      Thanks for the great link Trent! Looks good.