German tourist Mathias Mandlmeier, 45, has pleaded guilty to causing a head-on collision in New Zealand on December 28, 2011, which killed his partner and a Dunedin man on the South Island's West Coast.
As a result, Mandlmeier has been ordered to pay $10,000 for the harm he caused. to the families involved. He was also disqualified from driving for a year in New Zealand and is due to leave for Germany in coming days. The accident occurred on Highway 6, near Lake Moeraki in South Westland.
David Henry Morris, 82, died at the scene, and his son, Myles David Morris, who was driving the car, was taken to Dunedin Hospital with abdominal injuries. Mandlmeier's partner, Kerstin Fromert, 51, died on the way to Greymouth hospital.
COMMENT: Mandlmeier was driving a camper van when he did a u-turn on the highway, and told police he did not know whether he was on the wrong side of the road prior to the crash, but when his partner screamed when she saw a car coming towards them he instinctively pulled to the right, as he usually drove on the right side of the road. He suffered leg and shoulder injuries and was taken to hospital in Greymouth.
The police report on the accident indicated that neither driver was speeding at the time of the accident; Shannon Leigh-Litt, Mandlmeier's defense attorney, told the court that Mandlmeier deeply regretted what happened as a result of his behavior and is planning to return to Germany with Ms. Fromert's ashes so that he and her two children can have a funeral service for her.
In her ruling, Judge Jane McMeeken expressed hope that the Government of New Zealand would review the process whereby drivers who normally drive on the right-hand of the road are permitted to drive in New Zealand.
Sadly, in my roughly 20 years' experience in working as a federal agent abroad and another ten years as a security consultant, I cannot tell you the number of auto accidents that I have responded to in cases where expats and diplomats were involved in serious accidents where they were attempting to drive in an unfamiliar driving system--left-hand traffic or right-hand traffic.
During the course of my career abroad, I have been posted to a number of countries where traffic is on the left (LHD). Fortunately, being left-handed, I adapted well to driving on the left during lengthy overseas assignments and never had an accident. Yet, for travelers coming from both LHD and RHD countries, the transition can often be risky, as it was in the case of Mr. Mandlmeier. Unfortunately, his effort to make the transition on-the-fly had very tragic results.
Normally, I would recommend that new arrivals in a country where the traffic flow is different from what they're used to, adapt slowly to the difference by taking taxis, shuttles and similar modes of transportation until they carefully observe how traffic moves. Then, hopefully, on a QUIET traffic day, learn to adapt to the traffic flow you're unfamiliar with until you can safely and confidently move in, out and through traffic.
On the other hand, if you can't adapt easily to the new traffic flow, don't try, in the interest of your safety and the safety of others.
Let me give you an excellent example. One country I lived in for a number of years was Cyprus, where traffic moves on the left. Unfortunately, many of the roadways in Cyprus are two-way roads and many have twists and turns, which means that if you're driving on the left, you must expose most of your vehicle into the on-coming right lane in order to see to pass. During my tours there, I recall many American travelers being seriously injured or killed, simply because they could not make the transition from RHD to LHD.