Warning: traffic vigilantes in New Zealand
Going on a driving holiday in New Zealand? Be careful to stay on your side of the centre-line.
The Kiwis are very touchy about their centre-line, especially if you’re driving in touristy, scenic rural areas in the South Island.
We all assumed it was some kind of welcome, but what followed was an astonishing, aggressive tirade about our supposedly bad driving.I’m writing this from near Arthur’s Pass in the mountainous centre of the island. Today three of us drove here from Christchurch. Our car was clearly branded as a rental car. It was raining lightly most of the way but visibility was quite good. We arrived after about 90 uneventful minutes and pulled into the carpark of our destination, a private property. A large white van that had been following us for much of the way pulled in beside us.
The driver got out and beckoned to our driver to wind down her window. We all assumed it was some kind of welcome, but what followed was an astonishing, aggressive tirade about our supposedly bad driving.
“The police are looking for you all over the island,” he shouted, “You’re in real trouble. I’ve reported you for dangerous and erratic driving. Hand me your car keys.” Luckily, we didn’t.
“You were all over the road,” he shouted, “cutting corners and going way over the centre-line. You’re a menace to other drivers. Look, I’ve filmed everything you’ve been doing,” and he poked a small digital video camera at us accusingly, like a gun. “I’ve been following you for the last quarter of an hour and I’ve never seen such shocking driving.”
For the first minute or two we were stunned, then I noticed the sign on the side of his van advertising that he worked for an insulation company. The man had absolutely no authority to accost us.
“You two must have noticed how she was all over the road,” he demanded of me and the third passenger.
“Well, no, she was driving perfectly well,” I said. “She only went over the centre-line to drive through sharp corners when there was good visibility and it was clear no-one was coming. And once to overtake, perfectly safely.”
Our driver was shaking at the verbal barrage, at the brute hostility of the man. In fact, she had been driving perfectly normally and well, never breaking the speed limit, only crossing the (broken) centre-like on the occasional hairpin bend – slowly – when the way ahead was perfectly clear. I was in the front passenger seat with full vision and the driving was fine with me.
The man then strode into the reception area of the lodge where we were to stay, as if he owned the place, declaring that he was phoning the police from their phone (there was no mobile coverage) and was heard haranguing the lodge staff with the same accusations about us. This fellow was needlessly abusive, rude and hostile.
Some time later he re-appeared and after more tyrannical words to us and our hosts, he got into his van and drove off, declaring we should stay put till the police arrived. The whole performance had taken a good 15 minutes.
For the first minute or two we were stunned, then I noticed the sign on the side of his van advertising that he worked for an insulation company.Afterwards, various New Zealanders told us there had been some accidents caused by tourists who hadn’t been driving according to the rules, and weren’t familiar with the conditions, and the locals were cranky about it. These tourists weren’t usually Australians, but from countries with different road rules.
Soon the phone rang with a policewoman wanting to speak to our driver. A detailed conversation ensued, during which our driver was informed that in New Zealand you should never cross the centre-line.
“But I never crossed an unbroken line, only broken lines, and only when it was safe,” she protested.
“Still not allowed,” said the law. “What if you want to overtake? You have to cross the broken line then.”
“You’ve got me there,” said the copper, stumped.
So there you have it. Don’t go near that centre-line.
Some welcome to the land of the long white cloud. It was more like a black storm-cloud hovering over our holiday.