Thursday, December 5, 2013

New Zealand: Kiwi, 82, European Tourist, 51, Killed When Foreign Driver on Wrong Side of Road

According to the Otago Daily Times, a bereaved son has pleaded with a coroner to make 'keep left' stickers and other safety warnings mandatory after his Dunedin-based father, Miles Morris, 82, and a tourist were killed by a camper-van driven on the wrong side of the road by a foreign driver experienced with right-hand drive only.

Unfortunately, the camper-van had been traveling in the oncoming lane for more than one kilometer before smashing into Mr. Morris' car near Lake Moeraki, between Bruce Bay and Haast. 

"My father paid for this preventable accident with his life, and I continue to pay for it," the younger Morris told an inquest yesterday via e-mail, as he was unable to attend the inquest due to surgery for injuries he suffered in the December 28, 2011 crash. 

Sadly, David Morris, knew the road he was killed on like the back of his hand, having driven the road for 34 years as a dairy truck driver. 

Detective Malcolm Howie told coroner Richard McElrea that David Morris, and European tourist Kerstin Fromert, 51, died on State Highway 6 when European tourist Mathias Mandlmeier drove his Wicked camper-van on the wrong side of the road and collided with Miles Morris' car on a bend. 

The weather was fine that day and the road dry at the time. 

Both vehicles swerved to avoid a collision, yet Mandlmeier, used to driving only on the right, swerved back into Morris's path. Mandlmeier's partner, Kerstin Fromert, and David Morris, died from high energy impact injuries. 

Mandlmeier was later convicted of two charges of careless driving causing death and one charge of causing injury.  

COMMENT: Wicked Campers Auckland depot manager Jiten Patel said clients were encouraged to take pamphlets about New Zealand road rules, but they could not be forced to do so. Some vehicles had "keep left" stickers, but they came off over time.  

Police senior crash inspector Simon Burbury said both vehicles were traveling at a reasonable speed and had showed a high degree of alertness in their reactions. 

Burbury recommended that rental companies and the New Zealand Transport Agency (NZTA) improve and regulate vehicle signs and road markings to avoid such accidents. 

The van involved in the fatality was an old model and did not have airbags. 

Since the accident, Wicked Campers had contacted the NZTA to obtain more "keep left" stickers, which it hoped to put in all vehicles currently being used. 

Burbury also suggested NZTA place more direction arrows on the roads on both sides of tourist attractions to remind drivers of the rules of the road.

NZTA highway manager Colin Knaggs said more lane direction arrows had been added to the highway near the crash site. 

As most of our regular readers know, I have encouraged drivers from right-hand-drive nations to NOT pick up a rental vehicle in left-hand-drive New Zealand upon arrival, particularly after a 12-15 hour airline flight when they are jet-lagged, but rather take a taxi or a shuttle to nearby accommodations in order to recover from their trip before taking on "driving on the left."

Tragically, as time progresses, far more New Zealanders are being killed as a result of foreign drivers who don't understand the inherent risks of "driving on the left" for the first time.

With few drivers from right-hand-nations comprehending the risks of "driving on the left" for the first time, it may be time for the New Zealand government to crack down on foreign drivers who frequently kill Kiwis and describe the experience as an "accident."

Clearly, it is not an "accident" when foreign drivers don't pay attention to what they are doing.

During my US Foreign Service career I served in three countries that drive on the "left" and never had as much as a parking ticket, yet increasingly the cemeteries in New Zealand are being filled with people who were killed unnecessarily through no fault of their own, other than being on the same roadway at the same time with a foreign driver who couldn't adapt to "left-hand-drive."

Increasingly, New Zealand judges continue to enable foreign drivers accustomed to driving on the "right" to leave the country, after ending the lives of innocent people, without even a nominal prison term or payment to the decedents' family for their burial costs.

As has often been said, "If there are no consequences, there is no lesson-learned for taking a life." Not a good practice.

Admittedly, jurists in New Zealand don't want to discourage returning tourists, yet at the same time, taking a life MUST have consequences." 

One can only hope that human life in New Zealand is more precious that the revenue from foreign tourists.