*2013 Update* After I left the country, New Zealand changed their traffic laws so that the right of way turning now makes sense. This post reflects how NZ law USED to be.
New Zealand has a very quirky traffic law. In fact, it’s the only place in the world that has this type of law, and there is a reason for it: It’s stupid.
The law I’m talking about is concerning what happens with who has ‘Right of way’ when turning on a road without the aid of stoplights/stopsigns. I’ll give an example in North America of what normally happens.
Two cars approach a McDonald’s from opposite directions and want to turn into the parking lot. The car making the right hand turn gets right of way and turns first. The car making a left hand turn has to wait for all traffic to clear before proceeding to make their turn. Nice, safe and makes sense to all involved.
This isn’t how things work in New Zealand.
I’m going to reverse driving sides from the NZ norm so it matches North American standards. So now, according to New Zealand law, when the two cars approach the McDonald’s, the car making the easy right hand turn must STOP and give way to the left turning vehicle. Make sense? It shouldn’t, it’s pretty darn backwards.
Now let’s add yet another complexity – crossing more than one lane of traffic! Say this McDonald’s is in a city with a couple of lanes of traffic now in both directions. Now what happens? Well, that depends. Assuming only the same two (red/green) cars are present, the same right of way applies as before – the red car making the longer left hand turn has right of way, and the right hand turning green car must stop and wait before making their turn. However, if there is another car in the lane beside the green car, then the green car can go ahead and make their turn – the red car has to wait for other traffic to clear first (blue has right of way to continue going straight at all times). But that assumes the red car doesn’t gun it and try to make the turn before blue approaches.
I’ve gotten the ‘drive car on the left’ part of things down, and the whole roundabouts thing has been figured out as well. But this rule is giving me trouble so far (honked at once) – the circumstances don’t happen very often, and I’m used to simply making the easy turn without bothering to check what opposite direction traffic is doing – because it DOESN’T MAKE SENSE otherwise! Thankfully, no accidents, yet. But even New Zealand’s largest insurance company agrees with me. It won’t change in the year I’m here, but the rule is absolutely baffling and really should be scrapped.