New Zealand media’s blame game seems to have one target for all problems – from rising house prices to job shortages, and the latest in the list is – road accidents.
House prices going up? Those Asians are buying expensive houses. (Don’t ask me why North Shore, with predominantly European population, has some of the highest median house prices.)
No jobs for Kiwis? Yes, Indians are taking those qualified jobs. (Don’t ask me why there are immigrant doctors driving cabs, or civil engineers issuing parking tickets.)
And now, it is Asian drivers, particularly tourists, that have given ammunition to New Zealand media to cry foul.
In a Stuff story titled “Asian tourist drivers prompt complaints“, reporter Emma Bailey claims that “Asian tourists driving rental vehicles continue to raise alarm in South Canterbury.”
Her source? One Gerardine tow service company owner. Statistics? Three smashed up cars.
Later in the story, Emma cites six more accidents since Christmas, caused by tourists.
No official statistics included in the story.
Up north, the New Zealand Herald provides an accurate and balanced picture.
According to Sam Boyer of the NZ Herald, 558 crashes that resulted in death or injury last year involved overseas drivers. About 66% of these crashes were caused by overseas drivers.
But that does not mean those crashes were caused by driving errors that Kiwi drivers won’t commit.
Very few of those crashes were caused by errors typical of a foreign driver – new road layout, unfamiliar driving rules, distraction by scenery.
In fact, Sam Boyer says a lot of the crashes involving foreigners were consistent with errors made by Kiwi drivers too.
Sam reveals some more interesting figures: the most number of fatal crashes caused by tourists was in 2013 – just 4.2 per cent.
Last year, it dropped to 2.9 per cent.
Then why blame tourists, and that too particularly Asians? Because it is fashionable and in line with growing perception that everything wrong with the country is caused by Asians.
Instead of xenophobic media stories like the one from Emma Bailey, it could be more fruitful to identify the real causes of crashes and address those.
An online petition started by 10-year old Sean Roberts, who lost his father Grant in 2012 in a car crash involving a Chinese tourist driver, has attracted 27,000 signatories, seeking overseas driver test.
Introducing overseas driver’s test could be an option, but a cost-benefit analysis should confirm this.
One of New Zealand’s largest source of revenue is money spent by 16 million visitors every year. Introducing tourist driver’s tests would be detrimental to tourism in a country with almost non-existent public transport.
Prime minister John Key probably realises this, and isn’t too keen to introduce stricter regulations for foreigners.
“If you look at the accident rate of tourists who come and drive in New Zealand versus New Zealanders themselves, it’s pretty consistent,” says the prime minister.
Current rules for tourists driving in New Zealand
Tourists must have a current and valid overseas driver licence or international driving permit if they wish to drive in New Zealand. For new migrants who wish to live in New Zealand for more than 12 months, they need to gain a New Zealand driver licence.