Top Tips for Driving Overseas

December 3, 2013

From driving on the other side of the road to experiencing road rage,  driving in another country can be challenging, intimidating and downright dangerous.

According to the World Health Organisation, there are 1.24 million road traffic deaths worldwide every year. It’s a scary thought, given so many travellers hire cars, scooters and bicycles to help them get around. From slashed tyres and minor scratches to stolen vehicles and devastating crashes, if you’re driving in another country, it’s not uncommon for something to go awry.

So it’s important to consider potential differences in driving rules and behaviours ahead of travelling to ensure you are well prepared. Follow these essential road tips from Travellers Insurance Direct.

When renting a car, read the fine print of the contract about where the car is permitted to be driven. Many rental companies prohibit drivers from taking cars onto ferries or into Eastern European countries. The ramifications can be extreme, with punishments including arrest, fines and even being charged with attempted theft. At the very least, police may be authorised to hold the vehicle for the rental company, leaving travellers carless and out of pocket.

Throughout Europe it’s essential to pre-purchase a sticker to use the motorways or  autobahns. They’re available at petrol stations for just a few Euro, which is much cheaper than the fine on the other end.

It’s a myth that German autobahns are speed limit-free. About 55% of the motorways are subject to conditional speed limits, including minimum speeds. It’s illegal to drive anything slower than  60km/h, such a bicycles and mopeds. It’s also illegal to stop unnecessarily. Run out of fuel? That’s preventable, and the police will issue a fine.

What counts as drink driving varies from country to country. Legal blood alcohol limits commonly range from a zero tolerance policy (UAE for example) to 0.08 (such as in the UK). But rules vary, such as in Japan, where police have the power to penalise  drivers if they “think” they’re drink driving despite coming in under the legal limit.

Despite what the scooter rental shop says, licenses are essential for tourists in Southeast Asia. Sometimes, a home country license will suffice, sometimes an international driver’s permit will be necessary, and in some cases, a test for a local license is required. When it comes to travel insurance, it’s simple – no valid license in the country where the accident occurred means no cover. Illegal activity can never be insured.

Did you know?
In Russia, driving standards are so low and accidents so common, that locals have taken to fixing video cameras to their dashboards. It helps with disputes about who was at fault. As a result, all kinds of dangerous and scary driving is on video, like the driver who pulls a gun to force his way into traffic.

In Thailand, the country has a shocking road accident record. According to the WHO Global Status Report on Road Safety 2013, there are 38.1 road deaths per 100,000 people. Of these road deaths, 3.75% happen to Australians on  motorbikes and scooters alone. That’s almost 99 Aussies killed each year. Think about that when renting a bike in Phuket!

In France, it is illegal to use a device like a GPS or smartphone app to provide alerts as to the exact location of fixed speed cameras although it is permissible to be told there might be one in the vicinity. Ensure all software is upgraded across all GPS-enable devices to comply with French law.

In Spain, always check the vehicle’s tyres before driving off. Travellers Insurance Direct receive a high number of claims for repairs to slashed tyres. Thieves do it  to make tourists pull over, and then rob them. If it appears as though something is wrong with the car, travellers are advised to stay inside the vehicle with the door locked, politely decline offers from ‘friendly strangers’ and call the  a roadside assistance company. The rental company should provide these details.

In Lower Austria, watch out for bogus police in plain clothes on the Autobahn wearing a baseball cap marked Polizei. They  drive unmarked cars with a flashing electronic sign in the back window that says ‘Stopp’, ‘Polizei’ and ‘Folgen’ (follow). All highway/traffic police in Austria wear uniforms and plain clothes officers identify themselves without being asked. To check whether a police officer is genuine, call the emergency number 133.

While in most countries the vehicle in the roundabout has the right of way, but in the USA the vehicle entering the roundabout has the right of way. Travellers are obligated to know and understand the driving rules and conventions in effect wherever they drive.

Have you driven overseas? What are your favourite countries for driving?

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