When the media advocate racism to hide the real culprits behind bad driving

This op–ed in the Fairfax Press smacks of typical yellow peril journalism that has come to typify what passes for some media coverage of late.
   Yes, some Chinese drivers are awful in their home country and they will bring those bad habits here. But I’d be interested to get some hard stats. For instance, Chris Roberts, CEO of the Tourism Industry Association, tells us that 5 per cent of accidents are caused by tourists, and 3 per cent of fatalities are caused by them. That has been the case for years. The only difference is the mix of tourists. We were never that concerned when Aussies, Brits and continental Europeans were causing that 3 per cent. All of a sudden, we are concerned when Chinese tourists are causing part of that 3 per cent.
   Roberts also notes that Australian tourists are the worst culprits when it comes to accidents here—no surprise, since more Aussies travel here.
   In the last three years, 240 were killed on our roads by drunk drivers. None were killed by a drunk visitor.
   So what a shame when a writer cannot uncover some basic facts and advocates ‘benevolent racism’, citing a book written by an American about Chinese drivers in China in support.
   I wouldn’t have a problem if we were up in arms in earlier years about all the accidents caused by tourists, and the media, especially talkback radio, were filled with calls to make sure the many Aussies and Brits were tested before they got behind the wheel of a rental car here.
   But to devote so much time and column inches now smacks of hypocrisy.
   There’s a difference between the everyday Chinese driver in China and a more educated tourist who has the means and smarts to go abroad—just as there is between an everyday Kiwi driver in New Zealand and those of us who opt to drive and travel in countries where they drive on the other side of the road. I’d be surprised if you told me you were as relaxed as you normally are in New Zealand when you drive abroad.
   I have done my own study on this—a tiny sample to be sure—where the incidents of bad driving in this country are—surprise, surprise—exactly in proportion to the racial mix. It is always troubling when we buy into a stereotype.
   You can easily argue that we drive more kilometres over a year in our country than a tourist might over a small period of time. However, I understand from my friend Nadine Isler, whose father is the expert in this area, that even when you factor this in, we Kiwis still fare poorly. The xenophobia, then, that I see in our country is disturbing, especially when it relates to the yellow peril.
   Many of my friends who visit here comment on the appalling behaviour of local drivers, and they notice a marked decline in the driving ability they witness after they arrive. As Dave Moore—also of the Fairfax Press, but a journalist who prefers to research and cite facts—has rightly pointed out, our road toll per capita is substantially higher than the UK’s. He has said so for years, consistently, warning us about our own low standards. This should tell you something about where we stand, and just how appalling the average Kiwi motorist is. As I say to British friends who bemoan their own driving standards: you need to kill another 1,400 Britons each year to get an idea of where New Zealand is. (I am using a mix of 2012 and 2013 figures for that number.)
   His solution, which also appeared on Fairfax’s Stuff website, has merit, but, of course, it forces us to take a long, hard look at ourselves—something we’re not happy doing when there is an easily identified group to blame. And blame, and blame.
   As I said in an earlier status update on Facebook: if we want to target the driving habits of tourists (and it is not a bad idea), then let’s get the 95 per cent of trouble-makers—Kiwis on Kiwi roads, and predominantly white—up to speed as well. If we are going to do any profiling of who the dangerous drivers are on our roads, it’s not Chinese tourists we should be concerned about.

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5 thoughts on “When the media advocate racism to hide the real culprits behind bad driving

  1. I fully agree with your stance on sloppy journalism in this regard, but I’d like to introduce another reason why Chinese tourists are a particular concern for safety on our New Zealand roads.
    China is the shortest staying tourist market with a 3 day trip being the most common (http://www.chinatoolkit.co.nz/infographic). 90% of tourists have also visited another country on this trip – typically Australia, and also with a short stay (5 days is the most common). There is also an increasing trend for independent travel, with 20% of tourists preferring independent travel, and many preferring self-drive options.
    Chinese tourists frequently arrive in to Auckland, fly to Rotorua, then down to Christchurch, with a drive down to Queenstown…all in 3 days. Sometimes, this is done in the reverse order, with tourists arriving directly in to Queenstown from Australia, picking up a rental car and driving to Christchurch, flying out to Rotorua or Auckland and off home again. This means tourists are arriving in New Zealand after already packing in 5 full on days exploring Australia, and honing through New Zealand in 3 days.
    Chinese tourists take short holidays because of a lower annual leave allowance. This is why February is the most popular time to visit, largely thanks to when Chinese/Lunar New Year falls. So Chinese tourists are already exhausted from the long hours they work, finally get to take a holiday, and then exhaust themselves even further by trying to cover so much ground in such a short amount of time. Exhaustion, coupled with New Zealand’s dangerous driving conditions, an unfamiliar rental car, and driving on the opposite side of the road…no wonder it’s a disaster waiting to happen!
    Nearly 50% of Chinese tourists seek safety as an important factor when choosing their holiday destination, (http://press.hotels.com/content/themes/CITM/assets/pdf/CITM_UK_PDF_2014.pdf). It doesn’t feel as though we are giving our visitors the best experience. Making drivers do a test before they can drive in NZ isn’t going to solve any of these factors. Instead of blaming Chinese tourists, who will continue with this behaviour because international travel is seen to increase status, particularly with the growing middle class, we need to better understand our visitor’s wants, needs and behaviours, and design a better experience for them. How can we maximise the feeling of the self-drive tour giving Chinese tourists a sense of independence, but minimise the risks to themselves and others by taking to New Zealand roads while exhausted? There is a better way. Those in the industry who find ways of catering to this niche need will find competitive advantage in the market, and also make the world a safer place…for both our valued guests and us.

  2. Thank you, Rebecca: one of the most considered and intelligent comments I have read on this entire issue.

  3. How long before an acclimatised Asian New Zealander gets this treatment? It’s one thing, a dumb, racist thing, to pick on tourists. It’s another thing entirely to start treating local people like this.

  4. Bill, I reckon that’s been going on for all the time I’ve been in this country. In 27 years behind the wheel, I’ve had people swear at me, call me ‘a f***ing Chink,’ and attempt to swerve into me to force me off the road for incidents that are entirely tolerable, and usually where they are equally culpable. (Auckland is worse for this.) Dad has had someone follow him all the way home to give him an earful, over turning out from Johnstone Street into Jervois Quay into the centre instead of the right lane (this is before turns had broken lines marking them, in the 1980s, and it wasn’t actually an illegal manœuvre, anyway). This is the sort of stuff you see all the time and usually put down to errare est humanum, but I reckon we bear more of the brunt of it thanks to a stereotype that makes people notice the infractions when we commit them. (I came out of the same intersection in 2013 and a white driver ran the red light and almost T-boned me. I didn’t get out of the car to give her an earful, because, as you know, as a New Zealander you just don’t have that short a fuse.)
       I keep hearing stories about “Asian drivers” and it is racist, because those who tell these stories forget similar incidents when it comes to a white or a brown driver.

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