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Driving Etiquette - New Zealand

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Leaving aside the issues associated with motorways, which are pretty much the same everywhere, there are a few points to be made on the subject of driving in New Zealand1, particularly on the North Island2.

Legend has it that the North Island is the remains of a large fish hooked by a guy named Maui some years ago. If this is true, then it is clear both that he failed to eat most of it3, and that he subdued it only with great difficulty. The topography supports the view that the fish was very badly chopped up. Flat bits are few and far between.

North Island roads were originally constructed in sympathy with the landscape, or more likely in capitulation to it. Measure the distance between any two points, and this will be significantly less than an odometer registers for the actual trip. In some countries it is possible to find roads that stretch out, straight and dead flat, to both horizons. Not here. Here it is possible to read the speed warning for the next corner on exiting the previous one.

Settlements are not very far apart, and a lot of the local traffic travels at a relaxed pace, roughly 80% of the available limit. Interestingly, many drivers who steadfastly restrain themselves on the open road seem to find it difficult to slow their vehicles sufficiently to meet the lower speed limit applying in built up areas.

Some of the more important roads widen every now and then to provide an overtaking lane. This feature is sometimes useful, but as a general rule milk trucks, caravans, tractors and 80kmh speed demons will only be encountered after the extra lane ends. It is theoretically possible to overtake in other places, but a surprisingly large number of white crosses on the roadsides are testament to the consequences of misjudging such a move.

There are sections of road in which it is possible to achieve the speed limit. The authorities have identified all of these, and, aside from the corners being a little further apart, they may be recognised by the presence of signs warning of speed cameras. These signs are mostly diversionary, the ratio of signposts to camera units equating to unbackably long tote odds, but speeding through a stretch which is covered by a camera is best avoided.

New Zealand is largely agricultural and supports high concentrations of cattle and sheep. Many of these are road users. They have right of way. Sometimes they travel by truck, and if overtaking one of these transports it is generally advisable to go as wide as possible. If you can't overtake, keep a respectable gap between you. You have been warned.

The New Zealand health industry has been undergoing economic rationalisation for several years now. The health budget appears to be supporting more management consultants than medical practitioners. Drive carefully.

Elderly Driver Law

A visionary idea has been floated in New Zealand and is likely to become law, if it hasn't already. Some elderly motorists will be banned from driving on busy and unfamiliar roads under proposed driving licence changes. Transport officials say keeping older drivers within certain areas - such as their own suburb or town - would enhance safety and allow them to remain mobile. Thus, drivers unable to cope in heavy traffic or over long distances, but who feel comfortable driving to the local shops, can opt to sit for a new limited licence. The practical test would be done on roads with which they were familiar, rather than on busy motorways and in peak-hour traffic, as happens under the present system.

1For clarity of visualisation here, it should be noted that in New Zealand - as in other Commonwealth countries - the left hand side of the road, going forward, is the legal one on which to drive.2 It should be noted that this entry is based on North Island experience only: there are those to whom the distinction between driving on the North Island and driving in the South is significant.3Some Australians may disagree on this point!

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