Winston Peters: Foreign drivers must pass a test to drive in NZ

New Zealand First is rubbishing concerns over the cost and practicality of requiring longer-staying tourists to sit a full driver licence test.

Leader Winston Peters told The AM Show that the Government has a "cavalier" attitude toward foreign drivers and must not "worship the god of tourism".

The MP is supporting a petition calling for foreign drivers to sit a licence test before driving on New Zealand roads. The petition says drivers staying for longer than three months should be made to sit a full New Zealand driver's licence test before getting behind the wheel.

Visitors can currently drive for up to a year without a New Zealand driver's licence as long as they hold a current licence in their home country.

The petition was started by Judy Richards, whose son Rhys Middleton was killed in a road accident caused by a tourist. 

Foreign drivers were responsible for 25 deaths on New Zealand roads in 2016. There were a total of 328 road deaths in New Zealand in 2016.

When pressed by Duncan Garner on The AM Show on Tuesday, Mr Peters couldn't say how many tourists would be affected if they were required to sit a test. 

But that wasn't the point, he insisted.

"New Zealand First's point is we can do far better... We mustn't just worship the god of tourism with no regard to the collateral damage", he said.

"It's not about [the tourism industry]. It's about people who have lost loved ones because someone should not be on the road because that person is basically incompetent."

Mr Peters suggested that some responsibility be metered out to car rental companies, who could be required to be "far more careful" about who rents their cars. He said rental cars could be also fitted with technology to assist tourists on New Zealand roads. He did not specify what that technology might be.

In January, calls to licence foreign drivers were labelled a "witch hunt". AA motoring policy spokesman Mike Noon blamed New Zealand's difficult driving environment for the deaths, saying foreign drivers account for only a fraction of the road toll.

Petition backers at the time said they acknowledge New Zealand drivers cause most accidents. They say requiring longer-term visitors to up-skill will prevent deaths without putting a dent in tourist numbers.

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