How to recognize a Kiwi driver:
- They are courteous. (This rule supersedes all other rules; in the entire country, we have encountered exactly 1 obnoxious driver during our trip.)
- They use their turn indicators.
- When the sign says, “Kept left except to pass,” they do.
- They always drive within 5 to 10 miles per hour (kph) of the speed limit. Above or below is not important.
- They always use the turn-outs (or slow vehicle bays) on the mountain roads.
- They actually help and encourage you to pass when you need to overtake them on their (almost universally) single-lane roads. If you let someone by, they give two quick toots on their horn. We call this “the beep of joy”; we figure the first beep is celebrating their freedom, and the second beep is an acknowledgement of your courtesy.
- They have single-lane bridges where you trade off with oncoming traffic. This traffic may be cars, trucks, or trains. Yes (see picture). The signs give you a clue as to whose side gets precedence while the other yields. (Hint: trains don’t yield.) When you exit the bridge/precipitous roadway hugging some mountain that only got blasted out partway, the proper acknowledgement is to extend the index finger of the hand resting upon your steering wheel to the waiting driver. Generally both the passing and waiting vehicle drivers exchange the one-fingered salute (not that finger! See Rule 1.).
- A New Zealand driver will inevitably come around a tight curve in the road with the innermost tires well across the line dividing the middle of the road. This rule is most strictly followed on very sharp switchbacks when the oncoming drivers are coming downhill at high speed at a blind curve and your only escape route is over a cliff. If they are REAL New Zealand drivers, fully half their car will be in your lane as they appear out of nowhere and attempt to crumple up your right side. Yet somehow, they manage to do this courteously, even as you bump along the margin in extreme fear.
We are planning to produce the following song to help American drivers make the transition to the Kiwi way more easily. Look for it on offer at a tourist trap near you.
(Sung to the tune of “Born Free”)
Just stay in the left lane
It may be a right pain
But here you have to keep left
Or someone might hit you
It won’t hurt a bit to
Keep your car on the left
And don’t you forget it
You are a tourist here
The laws are quite severe!
Where no cops will fine you
Have Kiwis remind you
That YOOOOUUUU KEEEEEEPPPPPP LEEEEEEFFFFFFT!!!
I don’t know about you, but I’m fighting tears in my eyes.