Driving in a foreign country can be a daunting prospect for some, especially if they have not driven abroad before. The reason being is that driving in a foreign country can mean driving on the other side of the road, for instance, or perhaps driving somewhere that has laws very different to a person’s home land.
In this article, we look at the top 10 safety tips for driving in a foreign country.
What to Bear in Mind for Driving on the Other Side of the Road
There are a couple of things to bear in mind when driving on the other side of the road to what you are used to. They will depend on whether you are either driving your own car on the opposite side or a rental car on the opposite side of the road.
Drivers using their own car need to be aware that this can mean that you are driving a car with the steering wheel not on the optimum side for driving in that country, whereas driving a rental car will mean a steering wheel on a side you are not used to.
If you are driving your own car then in one way that is a benefit as you know it and you only have to adapt to the changing side of the road.
If you are driving a rental car, then you will have the benefit of the steering wheel being on the best side for road safety, but it may take you a time to get used to the car itself and its quirks. This can be from anything like where the pedals are, to how sensitive the brake is or where the windscreen wipers are started from.
Know the Laws
Knowing the laws of the country you are driving in is essential. Without swotting up beforehand on any differences between those of your own country and the country you are travelling to, you are opening yourself up to being pulled over by the police, but also you could inadvertently cause an accident.
Plus driving laws can vary quite widely between countries. In Europe, in particular, even if a country borders another, their laws can be vastly diverse. Take, for example, driving in Germany where there are no speed limits on the autobahns (apart from in specific places). Whereas in next door France, there is a speed limit of 80mph but this lowers when it starts to rain or the road is wet for any reason. It then goes down to 68mph. Other notable laws that are quite different to those of the US would be that in some European countries like Serbia, a driver has to have their headlights on at all times. Also, in some countries you can turn right on a red, but in others you can’t. Finally, though this is not an exhaustive list, some countries require cars to have certain items in them. For example, French road law requires road users to carry a couple of breathalyzers with them at all times.
Be Aware of the Foreign Country’s Culture
This may not sound like a way to stay safe while on the roads of another country, yet it is key to be aware of a foreign country’s driving culture before you get there. It means you will be best prepared for any huge differences in road conditions and road users when you arrive so you are immediately in a better frame of mind to drive on the roads safely. Take, for example, how busy the roads can get in downtown Mumbai or even how cavalier the Italians are renowned to be when driving.
These are all big differences to get used to when driving so having some sort of heads up to prepare for is fundamental to having a safe driving experience from the moment that you start the ignition in a foreign land. A country’s culture may be far more relaxed than you are used to or far more manic than you are used to. This can manifest itself in many different ways, like other drivers coming far closer to your car than your home country or even a driver becoming annoyed with your style of driving that they perceive to be too aggressive or not aggressive enough for their liking.
Know What to do if Flagged Down by Law Enforcers
This sounds so simple and obvious, yet it should not be taken for granted that a country has the same approach to being flagged down by the police as your home country does.
While it is a good idea always to stay calm when you have been asked to stop by the police, whatever country you are in, it can be easy to forget. Remember that staying calm is one of the best ways to get any issue the police have with you and your car, sorted quickly and easily. Just slow down and pull over when you can in a safe place when indicating. From there be as forthcoming as possible with all the information they want, like your travel documents and driving license.
While it is unlikely that you will ever be pulled over by the police, it is still a good idea to know what the law of that country will require if you do get stopped. Common travel documents will include your insurance policy, your passport, your registration document, and a visa if needed. If you have rented a car you will need to have the car rental agreement and contract with you too.
Keep Safe on the Road
In conjunction with being pulled over by the police and knowing what to do, it’s also a good idea to know what to do if someone from outside the law tries to pull you over. It could be that someone is trying to flag you down for perfectly legitimate reasons, but there is always the risk that this isn’t the case and you could be opening yourself up to being a victim of crime.
However, someone could be trying to make you aware of an issue with your car that you need to know about. If unsure as to what to do, the best course of action to take is to only ever stop in a brightly lit and well populated area.
It is very possible that fraudsters out there may try to convince you that they are genuine policemen for which you need to stop. Remember that a genuine police man will be happy to show you their badge or ID.
Finally, a good way to stay safe on the road from criminals is to check your country’s embassy website for any alerts they have for the foreign country you are visiting. If it has a big problem with roadside crime, it will be highlighted here.
Plan your Route
In the day and age of mobile smart phones and satnav, it seems silly to plan your routes before you arrive in your destination country. However, it is something that can make such a big difference to your overall safety and is something so easily overlooked.
Technology does not always perform as it should and it can definitely break at inopportune times too so having a route planned is a good way to protect yourself against this. Even vaguely looking at a map before you head out on the road will help you immensely should your sat nav or phone run out of battery. The best thing, however, is to have a hard copy of your route printed out in your car so that you have something tangible to use should you get lost.
Research your Route
This may sound like repetition, but simply knowing the route you are going to take in a foreign country is not quite enough. While a massive benefit and definitely a task worth doing, it is also a good idea to research your route too. This means knowing whether your route will take in tolls for which you need money, or perhaps tolls that will only take a well known credit card. Additionally, it can be a huge help knowing where you can take a loo break, how long certain stretches of your journey will take and the amount of time it will take you to get from town to town if heading out on a big long trip.
Researching your route will also allow you to build in comfort stops and food breaks into you itinerary which can be key to keeping your safe on the road as you won’t have to deal with any untimely distractions. Needing to use a restroom desperately or driving when exceptionally hungry, are all ways that you may not drive as safely as you ordinarily would do in a country where you know the roads and routes.
Think Ahead to Parking
It would be a great shame if you had conducted all this fantastic and helpful preparation in advance of your trip, only to fall at the last hurdle. Parking at your final destination is a good item to look into on your list of things to do as it means that you won’t have a stressful end to an otherwise trouble free journey.
If your final destination is a popular tourist destination having knowledge of a variety of places to park can be a lifesaver. Plus, practically speaking, sometimes you may be unaware of the huge charges that parking can add onto a trip – even if you are parking at a hotel at which you are a guest.
Know the Number for Emergency Services
This can be something that is also so easy to overlook – especially when we are so used to being able to Google the answer to any question that we have. It has made us lazy to forward planning and forward thinking. However, knowing what the telephone numbers are for the emergency services for the country you are travelling to is vital and perhaps one of the most important bits of preplanning preparation that you can do.
It will keep you safe and give you the ability to call for help as and when you need it. Obviously, and most likely, you won’t need to use those numbers under any circumstance that crops up on your trip, however than can prove invaluable should anything go wrong while you are out driving when overseas.
It is also a good idea while you are researching this to make yourself aware of your insurance company’s details. Or if you are using a rental car, make yourself aware of your rental company’s details as well as procedures for when something goes wrong with your rental car.
Remember to Enjoy Yourself
More often than not, many of us will be travelling to a foreign country where we are required to drive because we are on holiday. Remember, therefore, to try to enjoy the journey, even if you find driving on the other side of the road stressful or difficult. Driving abroad can so often be the best way of seeing the country in its true colors, away from tourist traps and overly commercialized areas. The old adage that life is about the journey not the destination is never more true than driving whilst on holiday.
If you have prepared enough and looked ahead to any perils and pitfalls that may arise from driving abroad, then you have put yourself in the best possible position to drive safely when overseas. Have confidence in that and your driving abilities, and you are set to have a great trip, wherever you go.