MARK SAINSBURY: Navigating foreign drivers and the road to racism

Megan Walton’s racist tirade against a group of fellow New Zealanders wearing Muslim head scarves has put racism firmly back in the spotlight.

“This is my land you don’t belong here” was the central thrust of the unfortunate Walton’s drunken, vile onslaught.

Obviously well under the influence she abused them verbally and physically. Unfortunately for her it was all captured on camera, as it does these days, and Megan Walton ended up in court on Monday - where she cut a truly pathetic figure.

Apparently she was so drunk she can't remember much, but she did apologise.

This case has sparked plenty of discussion about what it does mean to be a New Zealander.

Is it merely a passport (stand up billionaire Peter Thiel)?
Is it being born here?

Is it wanting to be here, is it representing New Zealand?

Many of the calls to my radio show began with the phrase, “I’m not a racist, but…” - which made me think about what racism actually is.

The Oxford dictionary is always helpful in these cases. It defines racism as:
“The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics, abilities, or qualities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.”

Which brings us to another issue which will challenge our position in regards to that definition. I’m talking about driving. I’m talking about foreign drivers - and specifically I’m talking about Asian drivers.

Does a belief that foreign drivers - and Asian drivers in particular - are poor drivers make us racist?

By the Oxford definition it would appear to be a slam-dunk prosecution.
On Tuesday at Parliament a petition will be presented urging MPs to make foreign drivers in the country for more than three months to take a driving test.
The latest stats show that last year 25 people lost their lives in accidents caused by foreign drivers (up from 19 in 2015).

One of our own reporters, Karen Rutherford, suffered devastating injuries when a car driven by a foreign driver took out Karen on her horse after coming around the corner on the wrong side of the road.

The numbers you could argue are not small - but the impact is big. And it’s the anecdotal effect as well.
While on holiday down south this year I talked to many locals who had intervened in cases of drivers hopelessly out of their depth.

One couple actually took over driving a tourist's car to get them safely to their destination because after following them they knew an accident was simply waiting to happen.

In many of these cases the drivers were Chinese. The issue is a lack of experience and the difference in New Zealand road conditions.

But is targeting these drivers racist? And frankly: is a test after three months too late?
How much of the problem is newly-arrived drivers - tourists who won't be here in three months to test?

John Key (remember him?) argued when prime minister that to impose restrictions on foreign drivers here would risk our ability to drive in other countries. But other countries do impose conditions including apparently China.

We want tourists to come here, we welcome people from China and other countries, but we also have a duty to protect ourselves - and is it OK to compromise that protection because we don’t want to hurt tourism?

Today the petition will focus attention on something we need to look at – let's not get sidetracked by the race card.

Mark Sainsbury hosts Morning Talk from 9am-midday on RadioLIVE.