The Tourism Industry Association of New Zealand (TIANZ) has advised tourist drivers who encounter abuse from other road users to report any incidents to police.
The advisory comes after several incidents where drivers from overseas have been abused by local drivers, and in some cases have had their keys confiscated in actions described by police and the TIANZ as “vigilante”.
One such incident took place on Waitaki and South Canterbury roads over the weekend, when British couple Ann and Bernard Bryer, who are regular visitors to New Zealand and have experience driving here, were verbally abused, given obscene hand gestures and were tailgated and honked at while driving a clearly-marked rental car.
The incident left the couple shocked and upset, with Mr Bryer describing the situation as “quite sad”.
TIANZ chief executive Chris Roberts said if any drivers from overseas experienced similar incidents, they should get in touch with police as soon as possible.
“If visitors are frightened and intimidated by the abuse, we recommend that they record the licence plate number of the vehicle or find some other way to identify the abuser, and report them to police. The visitor should avoid engaging with the abuser.”
Mr Roberts believes much of the anger directed towards tourist drivers has come about as a result of several serious and fatal crashes, which have been well publicised in recent times.
“The safety of visiting drivers on New Zealand roads has certainly been receiving a lot of media and public attention. We know that 95% of road crashes in New Zealand involve New Zealand drivers only, but recently the spotlight has been firmly on crashes involving overseas licence holders. There is a degree of hysteria and some of the more extreme public responses are completely unjustified.”
He said as well visiting drivers having their keys taken, the TIANZ is aware of several incidents where both overseas and New Zealand drivers of rental vehicles have been abused by other road users.
Tourism Waitaki general manager Jason Gaskill said he was not aware of any other incidents taking place in Waitaki and advised local drivers to be “respectful, patient and offer assistance if needed.” if they came across rental vehicles while travelling.
Oamaru-based Smash Place owner Geoff Omnet said his company had been renting vehicles to tourists for years and he was unaware of any cases of abuse happening in Waitaki.
“We’ve been hiring cars to tourists since 1998 and it’s never happened. Our cars are always returned to us, not somewhere like Christchurch, so we talk to them.”
A staff member at Oamaru’s Courtyard Rental said she was also unaware of any incidents.
However, a response on Facebook to yesterday’s Oamaru Mail editorial from an Oamaru resident said an example of abuse had taken place in the area recently.
“I have family here from Australia who are driving a rental car. Yesterday [Monday] they, like the English couple, were tooted at and given hand gestures.”
A recent Radio New Zealand report quoted visitors who had decided not to drive in New Zealand after the actions of local drivers, who Mr Roberts described as “vigilantes”.
He said if cases of key-snatching and abuse continued, it would have an impact on New Zealand’s name globally.
“Unfortunately, this type of response is likely to grow if these actions are widely reported internationally, harming New Zealand’s reputation as a hospitable destination. It may also impact on the visitors’ experiences of New Zealand, as self-driving holidays are a great way to experience all New Zealand has to offer.
“It’s essential that we preserve New Zealand’s international reputation as a safe and friendly destination.
“Negative reports in overseas media have the potential to impact on our tourism industry.”
Mr Gaskill agreed with the concerns voiced by Mr Roberts.
“I think such actions, should they become common, could discourage people from visiting New Zealand.”
By Daniel Birchfield