Even on dull days, the shadows cast by a highway over-bridge is an excellent marker with which to check that your following distance is adequate.

Photograph copyright 2012 - All rights reserved


The Dangers of Traveling by Road in Other Countries


An article by

Eddie Wren

Copyright 2010




Go to the ADA Website Contents Page



Traveling overseas has always carried an aura of risk to go along with the excitement it can provoke but few people realize that the danger of being injured or killed while traveling by road in other countries is commonly the biggest risk we face one that is statistically worse than any likelihood of dying overseas through violence or disease.


Worldwide, an estimated 25,000 people are killed in road accidents each year while they are either working or on vacation, abroad, and this number is rising fast.  An obvious question, therefore, is how can you help to protect yourself or your loved ones in such a situation. 


The first thing to remember is that poorer, less-developed countries typically have much higher rates of road deaths and injuries than do their richer counterparts, so the more adventurous your travel plans the more danger you are likely to face on the roads.  This problem is compounded by the fact that poorer countries usually have less quantity and quality in their hospital and ambulance services, too, and any badly injured person who cannot be transported safely to an adequate hospital within one hour of being injured a time limitation known as the "golden hour" is much more likely to die.


Tip No.1  Especially if you will be traveling "off the beaten track" make sure that at least two people in your group learn First Aid, in depth, before you go, and do take a sensible range of First Aid supplies with you.  Triangular bandages for use in making slings or splints are an important item, and you can carry several in a small space.  Sterile dressings to put over bleeding wounds are also important.

Mexico has recently scaled up its road safety activities including speed limits.                Photo courtesy of WHO; Copyright PAHO

Another significant problem for overseas visitors actually comes in two parts: firstly, they generally do not know the relevant traffic laws and regulations of the country they are visiting, and secondly the "traffic culture" can be very different, too.  This is in addition to whether or not the relevant traffic laws are properly enforced and are therefore even obeyed.  Pedestrian crossings/crosswalks, for example, may be thought of as an unbreakable rule in some countries, a mere suggestion in other countries, and a bad joke in yet other countries!


On the "traffic culture" front, even something as simple as a pedestrian making eye contact with a driver while crossing the road can have a very different meaning and a potentially dangerous outcome.  In some countries, a driver who gets eye contact will typically slow down and let a pedestrian cross the road, but in other countries eye contact indicates that the pedestrian has seen the approaching vehicle and will wait until it has passed before attempting to cross.


Police corruption is yet another consideration for anyone who will be driving.  Blackmail passed off as a "fine" by officers is certainly not unheard of in some countries and spending time in a police cell can also befall drivers who are involved in collisions.


Tip No.2  Do a serious search of the Internet before you travel, to look for any official documents or at least a website that appears to be a reliable source of sensible information about road safety in the countries you will be visiting. In the case of Americans who are traveling abroad, do not just search for "drivers' manuals" because very few countries use that term.  Include a variety of search terms, such as "safe driving" and "driving rules". Be wary of the fact that, just as here in the USA, people who actually know nothing worthwhile about genuine safety measures do tend to put their inaccurate and potentially dangerous opinions online!


Getting to know the rules in advance can be particularly important if you intend to drive in a country where traffic travels on the "wrong" side of the road, compared to where you are from.  For American tourists, this would commonly include Britain so here is a link to the UK Highway Code.  Any drivers who are visiting the USA should go to our State-by-State Traffic Laws and Safety Guidelines page.)


Tip No.3  If you are going to be driving on what to you is the "wrong side of the road" there is one crucial bit of advice for you to use.  Many British people have been killed in America, for example, (and vice versa) because they looked the wrong way when driving out of an intersection/junction and were hit by a vehicle that was coming from the "wrong" side.  The cure for this is simple.  As long as you are driving a vehicle that is correct for the roads you are on (i.e. with a steering wheel on the left-hand-side in countries where traffic is driven on the right, and vice versa) always look to your own driver's side first, and last, before driving out of an intersection from a stop sign or a yield/give way sign.  Once you get into the habit of checking "driver's side first and last" before turning, you will always get this extremely important task right.


Tip No.4  If you are back-packing, be very aware that buses and even worse open-backed large trucks and pick-up trucks that are used as buses and taxis are notoriously dangerous.

Road crashes are the main cause of tourist death and injury

A lethal cocktail of killer roads, unsafe vehicles, dangerous driving and disorientated travellers is resulting in thousands of tourist deaths each year, warns a new report from the FIA Foundation and the Make Roads Safe campaign, published on 27 September, 2010, World Tourism Day.
The report warns that tourist deaths on the roads, currently estimated at approximately 25,000 a year, could almost double to 45,000 by 2020 and triple to 75,000 by 2030 as global road deaths overall are forecast to increase.


Road deaths are already the number one risk to tourists ahead of terrorism, plane crashes and infectious disease yet the report finds that the international tourism industry and tourism organisations provide little advice to alert tourists to specific road safety problems in different countries....


Read the full report, from 'Make Roads Safe', at



Buses may seem like a safe bet but they are regularly involved in very tragic crashes in less-developed countries each year. Even rail travel in some countries is not particularly safe, but wherever possible it would probably be wiser to travel by train than by road.


Traveling abroad's top risk: Roads

USA Today October 21, 2010

Tip No.5  If you plan to rent a vehicle during your travels, it would be very wise to learn what things need to be checked before you trust your life to it.

In all cases, the condition and inflation of the tires is paramount.  Even here in the USA it is quite common for the tires on rental cars to be seriously over-inflated.  After all, over-inflated tires can resist damage better and are therefore less likely to need replacement before the car is sold so who cares that significant braking ability can be lost as long as a rental company maximizes its profits!


To help you remember all of the necessary vehicle checks, Advanced Drivers of America has created a light-hearted acronym:




It stands for:


Damage (to the vehicle in general... don't rent a wreck!)

Seats (anchored securely and able to adjust easily)



Brakes (check for pressure with the car static and again when moving)

Electronics (check that all dashboard warning lights come on and go off)

Liquids (all lubricants, fuel, coolant and windshield fluid)

Tires    (condition, evenly worn, correctness and inflation)


Lights (all lights clean & working)


Windows (all windows clean & clear)


Seat belts           (Acronym and list copyright 2010, Advanced Drivers of America)

Road accidents not terrorism, plane crashes or crime are the No. 1 killer of healthy Americans traveling abroad, a USA TODAY analysis of the past 7 years of State Department data shows.


About 1,820 Americans, almost a third of all Americans who died of non-natural causes while abroad, have been reported killed in road accidents in foreign countries from Jan. 1, 2003, through June 2010. On average, one American traveler dies on a foreign road every 36 hours.


Almost 40% of the deaths occurred in Mexico, the analysis shows. The second-highest number of road fatalities occurred in Thailand, where relatively few Americans visit. The Dominican Republic, a popular resort destination, ranked No. 3 in fatalities, followed by Germany and Spain....


Read the full article, from USA Today, at http://www.usatoday.com/travel/news/2010-10-21-1Adangerousroads21_ST_N.htm

Tip No.6  Check to see whether your home government has issued any advisory warnings about road travel (or travel in general) in the countries you plan to visit.  The US Department of State has a site here.


Similarly, the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office [FCO] has a website about safety for young people travelling abroad alone or in small groups, here.










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All contents including text, logos, artwork and photographs are copyright 2010 Advanced Drivers of America and/or Eddie Wren, unless stated otherwise.  Website last modified on 07-May-2012.