The car culture in New Zealand

Executive summary: in New Zealand, the car is a cult.

Car ownership
New Zealand has the highest level of car ownership in the world.

There are some pretty sound reasons for this. With a low population density, there is little scope for mass public transport outside the main centres and so in many parts of the country, a car is the only option for getting to school, work or the shops. Although absolute wage levels are low by Western European standards, cars are a lot cheaper and so they are still easily affordable. Fuel is subject to a low level of taxation so it is also quite cheap though of course that means that prices are more volatile as the oil price and the local currency fluctuate.

The low level of red tape and regulations that govern motoring in new Zealand also make car ownership more accessible and attractive.

Even in the cities, historical low investment in public transport means that a car is essential for many people too.

Road Rage
While not so common as in other parts of the world, road rage is also present. Drive by shootings tend to be gang-on-gang but there have been cases of people being shot in the face as a result of road rage.
Behaving badly
The car culture is not just about high levels of ownership. New Zealand has a thriving boy racer community. Illegal street racing is common despite the efforts of the police and deaths are not unusual as a result of such activities. It is so bad that there are actually some anti-boy racer laws - it is illegal to provoke "sustained loss of traction" (wheelspin) but it seems not to have much of an effect.

Dangerous vehicles are another problem. Some of this stems from poor maintainence - bald tyres with more canvas than rubber meeting the road? The country's famous attitude of "she'll be all right" tends to outweigh good sense there. Idiotic modifications are another problem - you want to lower your car? Why not just remove the coil springs and let the tyres rub on the inner wings. If that's too low, you can always jam some rocks between the spring seats where the coils used to be.

The car culture also combines handily with the beach culture to open up a whole load more places to drive. Some remote coastal communities are only reachable along the beach and if the occasional sunbather gets squished or if a kid falls out of the back of a pickup there is a lot of short term hand wringing but little seems to change.

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