Posted by: scribe9 | April 6, 2010

The end of Kiwi uniqueness?

Actually, just one aspect of Kiwi uniqueness is in the cross-hairs. That would be the right-hand rule (on the road, not in physics), which has plagued this country for over thirty years. Loyal readers will remember that it requires those turning left (not crossing any traffic in this drive-on-the-left country) to yield to those on their right who are turning right (and therefore crossing traffic). It means, among other things, that when one is at a green light, with no arrow, and planning to turn left, one must wait for those turning right from the opposite side of the intersection, unless there’s a car going straight through to block. Got that? Only left-turn arrows allow one to turn with impunity.

The reports of its death are premature. Its demise has been proposed in a ten-year plan for road safety; the powers that be say that getting rid of it will prevent 7% of intersection accidents and $17million in losses–medical and metal, I presume–every year. The proposal also suggests raising the licensing age from 15 to 16 (a bit of a tough sell in this agricultural country, although most of the city folk seem to be for it).

Whatever happens will probably occur long after we’ve left the country six months from now. But what’s gratifying about the discussion is that I’ve realized that it’s not just newbies like me who have trouble with New Zealand driving rules. Lots of people complain that with the right-hand rule, one thing that holds down crashes is that drivers in situations where the rule might apply tend to stop and wait, not wanting to do the wrong thing, and hold up lots of traffic. And there are frequent letters to the editor decrying the lack of signalling in roundabouts–another complexity many people deal with by ignoring it or hanging back. And no matter what one does, one’s liable to be honked at.

Driving in a town of any size in New Zealand is stressful. So I am doubtless not the only one who, upon returning from running errands for an hour or more, is tempted to kiss the floor inside the front door because my car and I survived.



  1. Already debunked on the sitting duck blog and podcast, look up right of reply on right of way.

    • Yes, I’ve seen that–and I don’t buy it.

  2. But this is by a born a bred New Zealander who grew up with the rule, and doesn’t necessarily believe what he reads in the media.

    “Lots of people complain that with the right-hand rule, one thing that holds down crashes is that drivers in situations where the rule might apply tend to stop and wait, not wanting to do the wrong thing, and hold up lots of traffic.”

    But apparently New Zealanders are lousy drivers as a country, it is reflected in their road toll, etc. Their minimum driving age is apparently only 15 and the permitted blood alcohol is as high as 0.08.
    This is apparently not the only rule that is “too hard” there are other problems like not stopping for amber lights or indicating before turning.

    And speaking of driver not using their indicators correctly, this is apparently one of the worst arguments given to support the rule change, because pandering people who can fined (and probably should) for their behaviour is not a reason for a rule change, since driver education would help alot. There is a whole site dedicated to busting fallicies of the rule.
    The tagline of the blog also suggests you come from a country the drives on the right (and are thus dealing with bigger differences than just these rules) and have other rule differences such as right turn on red (which would be left turn on red in New Zealand, here in Australia and other countries that drive on the left). Yes, another rule that most countries and areas don’t have and one that can apparently create similar dangers because one has to look in two different directions, 90 degrees apart. I’m also told that not everyone in North America obeys that rule either, not stopping before making their turn on a red light.

    • Of course people don’t always obey the rules, but why make things harder? Giving the right-of-way to cars that have to turn across traffic over those that don’t is simply begging for trouble.

  3. It’s like this, when turning left, you need to pay attention to those turning right and the traffic behind you. Those turning right need to pay attention to traffic coming towards them particularly those going straight. Doesn’t it sound fair that *both* drivers need to be aware of their surroundings and there is a shared responsibility. By switching it round those turning left are going to become ignorant of the situation because they know they are not required to give way. Making a right turn will become harder because they will no longer have the right of way over anything that moves and will be forced to be aware of the entire situation. It also means that right turners will be more likely to block straight through traffic, resulting in more right turns being prohibited and replaced by round the block turns.

    • I’m not that concerned with what’s fair in this situation; I want it to be uncomplicated and safer. There’s a good reason the rest of the planet does it differently–and demanding more attention from drivers is likely to get you nowhere fast.

  4. “I’m not that concerned with what’s fair in this situation; I want it to be uncomplicated and safer.”

    Is it really uncomplicated and safer? As a life long resident of New Zealand who learned to drive there has suggested otherwise, because it makes right turns harder because one has to give way to anything that moves and has to be aware of the entire situation.

    Maybe there’s also a good reason why most countries and areas don’t permit turns on red lights either.

    Why don’t you trust a local who not only learned to drive there and grew up with the rule, but could even know better than most NZ drivers?

  5. I am the one here who has even listened to the sittingduck podcast including the two relvent episodes Drving Social flip-flops and driving me crazy, the latter includes a whole section on the right hand turn rule and the host’s own experinence with the rule. His description suggest that if everyone around him drove sensibly and according to the rules, locals would not have so much trouble with it.

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