Driving in New Zealand

Campervan

Ever since we moved to New Zealand, my dad has been complaining about the standard of driving here, but is it really that much worse than in Britain? (My dad likes to complain about everything.) Let’s look at the facts.

–          In Britain, you can’t get your driver’s licence until you’re seventeen. In New Zealand it’s sixteen. (Until very recently it was fifteen. It was raised in an effort to improve driving standards.)

–          In Britain, you have to have car insurance. In New Zealand you don’t. (Although, according to government statistics, this makes little difference to the percentage of cars actually insured.)

–          The average age of cars in the UK is 7.44 years old. In New Zealand it’s 13.8 years old. (Kiwis like fixing things.)

–          According to a 2011 WHO study, the UK had an estimated 5.4 road deaths per 100,000 people. New Zealand had 10.1. (A large number of these were apparently the fault of tourists, people driving in New Zealand on overseas licences.)

129 Dart Stables GlenorchycroppedWhen you’re driving around New Zealand, you see a disconcerting number of crosses at the side of the road, marking where someone died – small, plain, white, wooden crosses. Sometimes you think ‘how did they manage to crash here?’ and come to the conclusion that they must have been drunk.

crosses

It’s also disconcerting that over the Christmas period the six o’ clock news has daily updates concerning the road death toll, and if New Zealand makes it through the whole holiday with few or no driving-related fatalities, it’s cause for a pat on the back.

So, yes, New Zealand roads are statistically more dangerous than British roads, but the standard of driving in general…?

This is a somewhat awkward article for me to write, as I can’t drive – I never learned. However, even I’ve observed that drivers in New Zealand tend to be a bit too casual when it comes to using indicators. And there have been too many instances of the green man lighting up, me raising my foot to cross, and a car zooming close in front of me.

The driving test is ridiculously easy. When we first moved here, my dad got hold of a CD-ROM that allowed you to practise taking the written learner’s licence test, and my seven-year-old sister passed it with no revision – a combination of luck and common sense, I think.

Maybe it comes down to the ‘she’ll be right’ attitude again. Although I’ve found that while that attitude breeds carelessness, it also lessens road rage. There’s more hatred directed towards other individual drivers in Britain than there is in New Zealand, but there’s w***kers everywhere. New Zealanders tend to pass the blame onto groups such as ‘campervans’ and ‘Asian drivers’ – groups that are perceived as driving slowly. At least they’re not speeding.

the mount 004croppedI can think of one way that driving is better in New Zealand than in Britain: far less congestion. Oh, and nicer views. I remember the first time our family went on a campervan trip in New Zealand, I made sure I had books to read and my Game Boy Colour with Pokémon Yellow to repel the boredom on the long distances we would be driving… and it turned out I didn’t need them. I spent the whole time staring out of the window with my mouth open.

The best piece of advice I’ve heard for driving in New Zealand, which, to be fair, is good advice for driving anywhere in the world, is to assume that every other road-user is a moron and to always check what they’re actually doing, rather than what they should be doing. It’s your responsibility to drive well.

And don’t think you can come to New Zealand, hire a six berth campervan and drive it down a narrow, windy road without annoying the locals.

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