Road Adventures In The Land Down Under

I love New Zealand. I’ve lived here for eleven years now, and I will never go back to where I came from. I love pretty much everything about this country. There is, however, one thing that I find really annoying, and that’s the driving skills, or should I say lack thereof, of the average Kiwi.

I was really surprised to find that when I first got here. The average Kiwi, if indeed there is such a creature, is friendly, outgoing and eager to please. When they get behind the wheel, though, it’s as if they morph into something else entirely. There’s definitely a Jekyll/Hyde thing going on here. When you drive in New Zealand you’re taking your life in your hands to a greater degree than any other western country i’ve driven in. Indeed, the death toll on the roads here is astounding. 433 deaths on the roads here last year, with a population of just over 4 million. What amazes me even more is that the majority were head on crashes.

Part of that has to do with the roads. They are not of as high a standard as other western countries. I’ve seen many roads improperly banked, poorly graded with inadequate road markings, but mostly it’s the drivers. Passing on blind curves at high speed would appear to be a national pastime to most of the people who visit here.

Another popular pasttime on the road is tailgating. Even if you’re way over the speed limit, and driving in the slow lane. One gets used to it after a while, but when you’re new here it’s very unnerving.

All of this is surprising given the stringency of the New Zealand driving test. The written test is tougher than the ones I took in California, and while I didn’t have to take a road test to get a license, i’ve heard endless horror stories about how difficult it is. A score below 80% on the practical is a fail, as is any mistake considered major, such as failing to comply with any traffic law, no matter how minor.

I live in the woods, or the bush as we say here, and the roads around my house are narrow and winding. In five years of living in my present location I can’t even begin to count the number of near misses i’ve had from on coming drivers driving right down the middle of the road, coming around a blind curve, completely heedless of the line on the road. It seems to mean nothing. Especially to four wheel drive vehicles. Don’t even get me started on them. On top of that, many of them will curse you and give you the one finger salute for having the temerity to be on the road at all. After all, it belongs to them, or so they seem to believe.

What makes all this even more unnerving is that insurance isn’t compulsory here, at lest not yet, they keep talking about it, so if you do get hit there’s a good chance the other person won’t have any, nor the means to pay. It keeps things interesting.

I’ve looked up some statistics on road testing, and there are some amazing figures. 1 person has taken the written test 31 times and still hasn’t passed. 2 people have failed the practical 16 times before finally passing. 4 people have taken the practical 15 times and failed.

The person who has failed 31 times has forked out $1270, and still not passed the written test. The 2 people who have failed the practical 16 times each handed over $1240 before getting a license. Driving instructors have stated off the record that many people in this country simply aren’t cut out for driving. That, I would offer, is an understatement.

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