For Christmas this year, Jacquie and I got a dent in the rear bumper of our used car. Thanks New Zealand! It’s what we always wanted. We’re not sure who exactly gave us this gift because our particular Kris Kringle didn’t leave his contact information in the windshield. An understandable oversight, I’m sure, as it was his busy time of year and there were many more cars to destroy.
The good news is the bumper was easily repaired, as it is made of cardboard. A few more swatches of duct tape and you could hardly tell the difference.
The bad news is that the drivers in New Zealand are the worst in the world.
That isn’t just my opinion. Everybody here says so. The funny thing is none of them will admit to being a bad driver. I’ve been in a car with a driver who was tailgating the car in front of us while decrying that very same irritating habit.
In the interest of full disclosure, I got caught speeding by a hidden camera my first week in Auckland because I wasn’t paying attention to the signs (such as they are, but that’s another story.)
But unlike the Kiwis, I have a legitimate excuse for my bad driving. I got my New York State license back in September after having let it expire in 2003 due to lack of interest in driving. To prepare for the test, I took a bunch of refresher lessons. My instructor spent the entire time on his blackberry. He looked up at the road only if he saw a pedestrian that interested him. Once he saw two men going down the street on roller skates. “Homosexual,” he said. It was the first thing he’d said in ten minutes of driving. A couple blocks later at a stop sign, a woman in tight jeans crossed in front of us. “Oh, thank you God,” the instructor said. He made some kissing sounds and as we crossed the intersection, I could see from the corner of my eye that he was still watching the woman. “I love America,” he said.
So, at least in my case, there’s no such thing as a bad driver, just a bad driving instructor.
But seriously, New Zealand does have a high “road toll,” as the Kiwis refer to traffic fatalities. The official total number of traffic fatalities in 2009 stood at 384 on New Year’s Day, with three fatalities on December 31 alone. That seems like a small number, but its 19 more than the previous year, and proportionately speaking, the rate is high.
New York in 2008 had 1,160 traffic fatalities statewide, which for a population of 19 million means that there were 6.28 traffic fatalities per 100,000 population. In New Zealand that same year, the rate was 8.8 per 100,000 population (365 fatalities out of a population of 4.4 million).
So at least from a statistical standpoint, New Zealand is a more dangerous place to drive than New York.