Helping overseas drivers stay safe while driving in New Zealand

The mainstream media has recently had a feeding frenzy over the number of tourist drivers involved in vehicle accidents in New Zealand. The facts are that we have a high number of self-drive visitors (63% hire cars and 18% hire campervans) and a large number of challenging roads made all-the-more challenging by the spectacular (and distracting) scenery that they run through.

A number of steps can be taken by vehicle rental companies, accommodation providers, visitor centres, international education institutions and inbound tourism operators to give New Zealand visitors the best experience of driving in New Zealand. There are a number of high-quality free resources available and by introducing them in a structured way during the booking and confirmation process, overseas visitors will become familiar with our rules and aware of the potential dangers.

The booking process

For vehicle rental companies safety should be prominent on the website. When a booking is taken information should be sent to the client as part of a confirmation template that points them in the direction of the best resources to start checking out our road rules.

The main ones are:

Accommodation provides don’t necessarily need to supply specific information as part of the booking process unless they are actively promoting using a car, but definitely should include some information on their website.

Information for your website

To flesh out driving tips on your website there are several reliable resources. Be aware that sometimes laws can change, for example the age requirement for child seats was changed in November 2013 but many websites still have the old rules on them.

The main tips for driving are staying left, being aware of fatigue and jetlag, paying attention to speed limits, learning the give way rules, 20kph speed limit past school buses, cellphone use, seat belt use and driver licence requirements.

You can mention courteous driving (particularly if renting campervans) by reminding drivers to let other road users overtake them.

Tips for driving in New Zealand:

You can also provide links to any of the other resources mentioned above.

Dealing with clients

The primary causes of accidents by tourists are due to distractions or tiredness. The majority of visitors that rent vehicles will have arrived via air and will be suffering some kind of jet lag. If they are familiar with driving in Europe or the USA they may not understand that distances in New Zealand can take longer to complete because of our lack of motorways and our lower speed limits. 58% of people who rent a campervan have had no previous experience driving a campervan and don’t realise that they don’t drive like a car.

Rental vehicle companies

Your staff should be trained in procedures to deal with clients and identify risks. Having open-ended questions you can ask the client to ascertain their skill level and fitness to drive will help you determine how much help to give them. For example, your staff should ask questions such as how long was your flight, how many times have you driven on the left-hand side of the road before, how frequently have you driven a vehicle like this before, what kind of driving experience have you had, and how much experience have you had driving on rural roads.

Staff should be trained to notice signs of jet lag or nervousness about driving in New Zealand.

When the client arrives ensure that a copy of NZTA’s booklet What’s Different About Driving in New Zealand is given to the them. If you have the steering wheel cards that NZTA provides, use them, too. You can quickly recap the main rules, or take them on a brief familiarisation drive if they have never driven on the left before. Check that they have the correct licence and it doesn’t preclude driving a manual vehicle if they have requested a manual vehicle.

If you have a busy office, using a tablet or PC that clients can watch while waiting for you to bring their car means they can quickly do a Road Code quiz or watch a video.

If the drivers have a smartphone or tablet with them, navigate to the Road Code quiz and the video so that they can have a recap on the road. If the visitor is from China, this video or this quiz are designed for them.

Other supporting information you can supply includes safety information about local roads that are challenging or might be excluded from an insurance policy, and it’s important to encourage use of a GPS to help with navigation, especially if English is a second language for the driver.

Accommodation providers (especially backpackers)

Many backpackers purchase a car to travel around New Zealand. Additional information you can supply on your website is an overview of what to look for when purchasing a car, plus a link to a vehicle history report service such as Checka. There is a good overview of things to check for when buying a car here

If your accommodation is located in an out-of-the-way area down roads that are narrow and difficult to navigate, explicit instructions for how to get there are important and you can use this time to remind drivers of the basic road rules and even if there are specific intersections or sections of the road that could present a challenge when driving.


If you run an attraction that visitors arrive at by car a simple sign at the exit reminding them to keep left is an effective way of helping a visitor rejoin the road on the correct side. If you have a lot of traffic you can ask NZTA to paint directional arrows on main road either side of your entrance. As with accommodation providers, if your attraction is located on a road that is challenging, help tourists along by giving them an overview of what they should expect, but without discouraging them from arriving there.

Reducing the road toll

No amount of education will completely eliminate the risks of people who are simply bad drivers – drivers with poor spatial awareness who, regardless of which country they are driving in, would present a danger. With 2.7m visitors per year and only 560 accidents, the rate is fairly low, but we can do more to help. As vehicle technology improves, vehicles themselves will be more and more difficult to crash, but we’re a few years off fully autonomous cars. Until then, we just have to take as many steps as possible to keep visitor drivers as safe as possible.

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