New Zealand’s colourful driving signs

Most of our time on the road was in a rental car.  We chose this route for a number of reasons.  Having a car allowed us freedom from schedules, freedom to go anywhere we pleased, a portable shelter we could sleep in (to save money on hotels and such), the ability to give  hitch-hikers rides and a portable storage area, so we wouldn’t have to carry anything on our backs.

Besides all of that, it was simply nice to drive in a western country again (even if I had to drive on the wrong side of the road).  The traffic felt safer, and I didn’t have to worry about any crazy scooter maniacs crashing into or cutting me off.  Unlike on Taiwan’s roads,  I could turn off my sixth sense and drive like a normal person.

The price of the rental was not too bad (around NZ$ 675 for 14 days – unlimited kms etc etc) from Omega car rentals.  We picked up the car in Nelson and returned it in Christchurch (both locations near the airport).

One of the unforseen consequences of renting a car was the exposure we had to NZ’s road signs.  I’ve never seen signs like these in Canada, the US or Taiwan.  They definitely go all out for road safety in NZ.

Some signs are very colourful and detailed, while some are stark and morbid.  I tried to take pics as we were driving (dangerous I know – see what I put myself through for my readers???), but since they are on the highway, not every one turned out as well as I’d hoped.

Here are a few to give you a taste of New Zealand’s road sign-age:


Such a nice way to remind drivers of the dangers of speeding eh?  SPEED AND DIE!! it says.

Added to that, the religious imagery makes me think that if I speed, not only will I die, but I’ll also go to hell and Satan will feast on my unworthy, heavy footed, speed demon carcass for all eternity.  Brrr….sure as hell don’t want to push the gas pedal now, so I guess the sign does it’s job!

One thing seemed off to me.  Kiwi’s are very chilled, laid back people.  So to have this kind of road sign – so strong and in-your-face morbid seems to be at odds with the whole New Zealand mentality.

I would have thought road signs would be more like this:


Nice and cute and cuddly.  This sign is a sweet, gentle reminder to be alert when you drive.  Unlike some of it’s companions, this road sign says: “Rest, gentle traveller.  Count and dream of sheep and other cute creatures while you lay down your weary head.  You will be safe.”  Very friendly and makes me want to heed it, as one would heed a cute, friendly person just to make them happy.  More akin to the Kiwi mentality.

Unlike this one:


Another warning to speeders, this one doesn’t have the religious/afterlife message of the first one.  It has a much more visceral and visual message.  “Your speed is relatively proportionate to the size of bloody carnage you will leave behind” it says.

I’d imagine the first one was for those who are intellectually inclined, while this one is for those who are more emotionally inclined.  Both of them are militantly assertive (unlike anything Kiwi – in my opinion at least) about the dangers of speeding, and they both worked – on me at least.

Then there are the benign signs:


This one is downright boring.  It doesn’t have the shock factor of the morbid ones, lacks the cuddly friendliness of the cute signs and it conveys it’s message in a plain, boring way.  After seeing the other signs in New Zealand, the sign designers should be embarrased at this one.

Definitely not your best work guys!  No drama, no emotion and no charisma to this sign.  The only thing going for it is more colour than the others, but without any wit, the colour doesn’t go very far.  At best, 2 out of 10!

This sign didn’t do it’s job, so I continued to be distracted while driving and took this last picture:


Awesome job.  Simple, but hits with the force of Thor’s hammer.  The sign designers have redeemed themselves with this offering.  This one uses it’s simplicity to blast it’s message with a loud, authoritative voice. “Stay on the correct side of the road, or DIE!”  Yes sir!

Again, the authoritative factor of this sign goes against the general mood of the people I met in New Zealand, but one thing is sure.  It gets it’s message across and it works.

So while there are many more signs on the roads of New Zealand, I only managed to capture these.  Still, I feel that they give a good taste of the driving sense of Kiwi’s.  And here’s what I learned:

While New Zealanders are very chilled and laid back about life, they take their driving VERY seriously – which is great, and goes toward creating a safe environment on the roads.  So if you are in NZ,  happy driving, and enjoy the morbid, cute and quirky signs on New Zealand’s highways.


4 Responses to “New Zealand’s colourful driving signs”

  1. 1 kiwipom91 March 19, 2013 at 2:03 am

    I’m a Brit who’s lived in New Zealand since I was 10 years old, and I think the problem is that New Zealanders DON’T take driving very seriously. They’re just as laid back about driving as they are with other aspects of life, which is why there are so many road accidents for such a small population. That’s the reason there are so many signs like this – it’s the government trying to encourage better driving habits. Hopefully it’ll start to work soon.
    But I completely agree that rental cars/campervans are the best way for tourists to get around New Zealand, as I say on my blog, which is about New Zealand from the perspective of a British immigrant, including great places for tourists to visit:

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