25 killed by foreign drivers in 2016

Preliminary Ministry of Transport figures obtained by Newshub show at least 25 people died in crashes on our roads last year where an overseas driver was at fault.

Over the past five years, the number of overseas drivers responsible for fatal crashes has remained relatively consistent at about 6 percent.

It's a statistic Tauranga woman Judy Richards desperately wants to change after her son died in a road accident caused by a foreign driver nearly a year ago.

She's preparing a petition to go to Parliament requiring visitors to sit a New Zealand licence if they're here longer than three months.

Rhys Middleton's grave is adorned with fitting reminders of the young man he was. One memento is fashioned together with parts of the motorbike he was riding when he was killed by a foreign driver.

"She was way out of her depth and veered off the road, over-corrected and collected Rhys, who died at the scene," says Ms Richards.

Mr Middleton was only 23.

Jieling Xiao, here on a 12-month working visa, was sentenced to 17 months' jail. She appealed and was deported, spending only two months behind bars. She'd never driven on the open road before.

Ministry of Transport foreign driver statistics

  • 25 lives lost in 2016 due to foreign drivers
  • up from 19 in 2015, the same as 2014's 25, and well up on 2013's 13 fatalities
  • more than $4 million in social costs for each death
  • $430,000 for each injury (reported cases - the total including unreported is estimated at $760,000)

Ms Richards wants change. Visitor visas typically last three months. Drivers here any longer than that, she believes, should sit a full New Zealand licence test.

"I think it's important that they are aware of the difficulties sometimes of driving on our roads, which is far different to where they've come from, and this will make them more safer, as well as us."

She's collecting signatures for a petition to be presented to Parliament next month by New Zealand First Party leader Winston Peters.

"Lives are at stake - both them as visitors and New Zealanders on the roads as well," says Mr Peters. "If nothing is done, then more people will die when we should have taken precautions."

It's getting support from those in similar situations, like Newshub journalist Karen Rutherford, who suffered horrific injuries when she was knocked off her horse by an overseas licence holder.

Karen Rutherford (supplied)
Karen Rutherford (supplied)

The father of Virginia Keogh, who was killed alongside pregnant Kylee Anne Rakich in April 2016 by American tourist Thomas Springer, near Kerikeri, supports the campaign.

"You can't put a price on life," says Neville Radovanovich. "Visitors should have to sit a test, even a written test so they understand our road signs and symbols."

Currently people visiting New Zealand are allowed to drive on our roads for up to a year if they have a current and valid licence from their home country.

After that, they have to get their overseas licence converted, which sometimes - but not always - requires a theory and practical test.

Driving information campaigns are already underway, and Tourism Industry Aotearoa believes that's the better solution.

"Our view is that there's a range of other initiatives that should be considered first, such as informing those drivers about what it is coming to New Zealand, what's different about driving in New Zealand," says Steve Hanrahan.

But that approach comes as cold comfort to people like Ms Richards.

"I don't want anyone to go through what we're going through. It's just wrong, and it's too tough."

The petition will go to Parliament on February 14.