Petition call for driving law change

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The Oamaru community has rallied together to support a petition calling for a law change for overseas drivers following the death of a 5-year-old Oamaru girl.

Ruby Marris died, and her parents and siblings were flown to Dunedin Public Hospital with moderate to serious injuries, following a two-vehicle crash on State Highway 1 near Moeraki at about 4.50pm on Saturday.

A 32-year-old Beijing resident, who was granted name suppression, appeared in the Dunedin District Court on Monday in relation to the incident and was remanded on bail to reappear on March 13.

This accident and others involving overseas drivers have caused an outpouring of calls for a law change on Facebook, including the online “sharing” of a petition created by 9-year-old Geraldine boy Sean Roberts asking for mandatory driving tests for overseas visitors.

Oamaru resident Dan Lewis, whose children went to school with Ruby and her sisters, has been moved to post the petition and other information on the issue on his Facebook page as well as writing to Waitaki MP Jacqui Dean.

Mr Lewis said tourist driving had concerned him for a long time but this incident really hit home.

“Something needs to change and something needs to happen.

“We have the right to be safe on our own roads.”

By sharing information on social media, he hopes to bring the issue to the attention of more people and put pressure on the Government.

“All I am trying to do is share as much as possible and be vocal about it.”

Overseas visitors, with a current licence, can legally drive for 12 months from the date of their last arrival. However, the first year was the time people were more likely to make mistakes because of a lack of understanding of New Zealand road rules and conditions, Mr Lewis said.

“If they don’t know what they’re doing, they shouldn’t be behind the wheel.

“A vehicle is a lethal weapon. How many more [crashes] is it going to take before common sense prevails?”

Last week alone, Mr Lewis saw three incidents of overseas drivers making “stupid” mistakes, he said.

“We want people to come and see our country but we also want them to leave not having killed anybody or themselves.”

Ministry of Transport Land Transport Safety manager Leo Mortimer said reducing the country’s road toll, no matter what the cause, was not a quick or easy fix.

Sean Roberts’ petition is being considered by the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee. However, making overseas visitors pass a mandatory theory or practical driving test before they can drive in New Zealand is likely to be inconsistent with the country’s legal obligations under the 1949 United Nations Convention on Road Traffic, he said.

As a result of New Zealand having signed and ratified the convention, all overseas drivers who hold a current licence are allowed to drive for 12 months.

“Treaties are legally binding on the countries that sign up to them and New Zealand takes its treaty obligations seriously,” Mr Mortimer said.

“Because New Zealand is a signatory to this convention, New Zealanders are able to drive overseas on arrival on their New Zealand driver licences without having to sit any additional tests in most countries.”

However, Mr Lewis said it might not be a bad thing for New Zealanders to have to be tested in other countries too.

Mr Roberts’ petition has nearly reached its goal of 35,000 signatures, with hundreds being received since Saturday’s accident.

Many Oamaru people have signed including Ruby Marris’ uncle Chris Cant, and posted their reasons to the site.

Among them have been:

– In the hope we get safer roads and to protect our children and for wee Ruby who was tragically lost at Moeraki

– just lost a precious little 5 yr old girl and friends daughter to a horrific crash involving a foreign driver. I drive on the roads a lot for work and pleasure and witness this driving on a daily basis.┬áSomething needs changed before more lives are lost

– Something needs to happen AND SOON!!

By Ruby Harfield