Road Safety in Foreign Countries

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What human influenced tragedy is mainly associated with the death of tourists while trying to enjoy themselves? Many people might be surprised to learn that the first thought that may have popped into their minds – terrorism – is actually not the big axe swinger. Motor vehicle crashes, not crime or terrorism, will more than likely be the main cause of injury or fatality among vacationing foreigners as they try to enjoy what a country has to offer.

So now that you have your International Driving Permits you are raring to go and enjoy your vacation. Not so fast just yet – there is still the issue of the nature of the roads you will be driving on, among other things to contemplate. What are the accident statistics in the country, and what is the condition of the roads you will be traveling? What is the driving nature of other roads users you will be encountering?

Sadly, we hear ever too often of fatal crashes involving tourist happening in foreign countries. Many Americans have lost their lives or loved ones to these crashes. Data for the period 2007 to 2009 show that motor vehicle accidents was the leading cause of death among US traveler with the death toll at 745.

This link contains valuable information on motor vehicle related death rates in 20 countries most frequented by US travelers. Mexico topped the list with over 280 US travelers losing their lives during that period.

Avoid Becoming Another Road Fatality Statistics

Road crashes are a terrible waste of life and human resources. Here are a few things you need to be aware of when considering road safety in foreign countries.

1. The Rules and Laws of the Road

All too often tourists make the mistake of going on a driving trip to another country without first understanding the rules and laws of the road, and the general road etiquette of native road users. It is important that foreigners going on a driving vacation first familiarize themselves with road rules such as:

  • Whether or not they can turn right on a red light.
  • Are drivers allowed to use cell phones while driving?
  • What are the rules governing drinking and driving? What will happen to the foreigner who is caught breaching the law? Some countries have a zero tolerance approach to the issue of driving under the influence, as well as drug use. A breach of these laws can attract harsh penalties.

According to the U.S. State Department, the main killer of many healthy Americans on vacation in foreign countries is motor vehicle crashes. Tourist drivers should familiarize themselves with the local customs and road conditions of the host country. These customs and road conditions can be disorienting and dangerous for visitors. Some of the driving issues in other countries include:

  • Sub-standard roads.
  • Insufficient signage.
  • Lack of familiarity with the road.
  • Drivng on the opposite side of the road.
  • Travel fatigue.
  • Spotty law enforcement. It pays to be prepared rather than to be surprised at what awaits you on the roads.

2. Bad Roads and Dangerous Driving

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “more than 90 percent of the world’s road deaths occur in low- to middle-income countries.” Rapid technological and other developments have caused significant increase in the number of vehicles on the road in these countries, but the infrastructure is not on par with that of more developed countries. Poorly maintained vehicles and roads, combined with a lapse in the enforcement of the law, lead to high incidences of road rage and misuse of the already poor infrastructure.

Here are some tips that will help you have a better experience on the roads when you go off on your vacation.

Tips to Follow When Driving Abroad

  • Make sure you have both the International Driving Permit (IDP) and your American driver’s license with you at all times. Remember the laws governing licenses vary from country to country and you do not want to get caught breaking the law even if such a lapse is completely unintentional.
  • Find out if there is a law governing the minimum and maximum age for operating a motor vehicle.
  • Find out if the country uses tolls or special permits to access their highways.
  • Never forget to buckle-up. More than likely there are laws and harsh penalties for those caught breaking this and other laws.
  • Never leave behind a good road map and a chart. You should always map out your route and ensure you know it so you can pay more attention to driving while enjoying an easier journey.
  • Remain alert and always be aware of your surrounding when entering or exiting your vehicle.
  • Never pick up a hitchhiker or a stranger.
  • Honking the horn while going around a sharp bend is the expected norm in some of these countries. It serves to alert any oncoming vehicle. It is customary for both vehicles to then acknowledge the other and proceed with caution.
  • Make sure you have liability insurance if you rent a car.
  • Find out which side of the road the people of the host country drive on. If it is the opposite side to which you are accustomed, it may be best that you spend some time practicing on less traveled roads before venturing out on the busier roads.

There are several things a tourist can do to ensure his or her own safety when visiting another country. Much of this stems from simply researching and learning about your destination so that there will be very few surprises, permitting a safer and more enjoyable driving trip. Check the following links for country-specific driving risks among other very useful information.

References:

Photo credit: Trey Ratcliff

Elizabeth Bailey is an avid blogger with a penchant for car vacations. She enjoys sharing her tips and insights on various driving blogs.

3 Comments

  1. Simon Gillham

    January 11, 2013 at 3:24 pm

    Be aware that in countries in which driving is on the left you must drive the opposite direction (clockwise) around a traffic circle or roundabout. I made this mistake while driving in Namibia. Fortunately an oncoming driver pointed out my error.

  2. Dean

    May 19, 2013 at 6:25 am

    Road safety is very important in any country. While driving we must ensure our safety and follow all traffic rules so that accident of any kind can be fully avoided. Bad roads can also cause accidents so roads should be good enough so that accident risk can be lessen. If all these small points can be taken care of.

  3. Sam

    August 12, 2013 at 3:55 am

    Its amazing how many people disregard road safety when travelling in a differenct country on holiday, I can't stress enough how important it is to be even more vigilant when driving in another country

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