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New research on overseas drivers challenges perceptions

Results from the study carried out in 2016 of overseas drivers in New Zealand has provided insights into issues that highlight the need for new policy to reduce accidents.

Wintec researcher and academic staff member Dr Hyun-Chan Kim was interested in the correlation between New Zealand’s rapidly increasing tourism figures* and increasing accidents. He worked with two of his engineering students to conduct 205 interviews with overseas drivers at Auckland Airport and i-Sites along tourist routes.

“We wanted to find out why overseas drivers involved in accidents had a higher injury rate and come up with some solutions. So we explored the driving behaviour of overseas drivers to identify the key causes from internal and external factors, and compared it with existing data.

“This research challenges popular perceptions of who, how and why accidents are caused and based on our findings, we recommend that tailored communications to tourists intending to drive here before they get behind the wheel would be more effective than current practices and guidelines.

“Overseas drivers cause 1-1.4% of road crashes in New Zealand, which means close to 99% of accidents are caused by New Zealand drivers. The problem is the accidents tourists are involved in are statistically worse. We’re talking about head-on collisions often on rural, scenic roads,” he says.

The research revealed drivers over 30 years-old tended to believe fatigue affected driving performance. This often happens once the driver is well out of the city and driving down rural roads.

“Typically tourists are getting off a long flight and straight into a rental car and they are fine for a while, then fatigue sets in, they tire and this is when accidents can happen.”

The leading cause of accidents for overseas drivers is losing control, followed by failure to give way, not seeing another party until too late, cornering and driving too far on the left or right hand side of the road. For domestic drivers, the leading cause is also losing control, followed by not seeing another party, failure to give way, following too closely and lastly, cornering.

The results also indicated many Asian drivers found roundabouts challenging as they are rare in their home countries. Another factor is New Zealand’s weather and road conditions, with many overseas drivers finding mountainous roads, sharp corners, rough roads, fog, rain and snow difficult to navigate.

The results of the research by the Wintec team are consistent with data collected from 2,328 crashes related to overseas drivers from 2010 – 2014 extracted from the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) Crash Analysis System.

NZTA statistics from 2013 and 2014 show that overseas drivers from six countries contributed to 55% of accidents involving injury. Australians were the top offenders, followed by drivers from the United Kingdom, Germany, India, China and the USA. As well, around 73% of our overseas visitors are taking the scenic route for their holidays and self-driving cars and campervans.

The research reveals that while some issues are consistent with many tourists, others are specific to the socio-demographic characteristics of overseas drivers such as age, country of origin, and their experience driving in their country and New Zealand.

Chan, who emigrated from South Korea eight years ago, sets an example when he travels.

“When I go back to Korea,” says Chan, “I don’t drive, I use public transport. I’m a tourist now in my home country. That attitude is needed by more people.”

Chan and David Zhang, a former BEng Tech (Civil Engineering) student who graduated from Wintec in 2016, launched the results of their research at the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ) Transportation Group conference in Hamilton earlier this month. This research will also be presented at the 12th Eastern Asia Society for Transportation Studies (EASTs) conference in Ho Chi Minh City in September this year.

Supporting information

  • Download the research presentation ‘Road Safety Study in New Zealand: Road Accidents Involving Overseas Drivers’ by Dr Hyun-Chan Kim and David Zhang here.
  • Review the latest figures on New Zealand crash statistics the Ministry of Transport and NZTA here.

*New Zealand’s tourism numbers have increased by 46.3% since 2007 – Statistics NZ, 2017.

**Source: NZTA statistics 2014.