It’s common to worry about theft and sickness when travelling abroad. But surprisingly, motor vehicle crashes — not terrorism, crime, infectious disease or plane travel — are the biggest killer of tourists globally.
cocktail of killer roads, unsafe vehicles, dangerous driving and disoriented or
carefree tourists means many dream holidays of a lifetime instead become
life-ending nightmares,” reads the introduction to "Bad
Trips: International tourism and road deaths in the developing world” The report was released
late last year by Make
Roads Safe, a global initiative, and FIA Foundation for the
Automobile and Society, a non-profit group based in London.
to the World Heath Organization (WHO), more than 90% of the world’s fatal road
crashes occur in low- to middle-income countries like Turkey, China and Cambodia, which
are also increasingly popular tourist destinations.
Much of the
problem is rapid development. With more vehicles on the roads, the
infrastructure often cannot keep pace. Frequently, roads and vehicles are
poorly maintained and the laws, enforcement and driver training are weak.
“There is going
to be an estimated 83% increase in traffic deaths in the next 10 years in low
and middle income countries unless we take action now,” said Bella Dinh-Zarr,
the North American director of Make Roads Safe and director of road safety for
the FIA Foundation.
experts say most travel guidebooks and websites do a poor job of preparing
tourists to make safe choices. But savvy travellers can learn about local
roads, laws and customs before they go.
a few simple questions can save your life, said Dr Dinh-Zarr. When renting a
car, for example, most people ask for the fastest route. Asking which is the
safest would be a better strategy, she said.
also suggested avoiding taxis without seatbelts, to always wear helmets when riding
motorcycle taxis, to consider hiring an established car service rather than
drive in some countries, like India and Mexico, among others. It’s also
important to only take buses from an established company. After crashes, some
bus companies have been known to close down and simply reopen with new names, said
Rochelle Sobel, founder of the Association for Safe
International Road Travel (ASIRT). “You need to do your homework,
that’s the bottom line.”
many countries, like Cambodia,
where road fatalities have almost doubled in the last decade, travelling at
night or near dawn, particularly in rural areas, is strongly discouraged.
Headlights are often turned off, as drivers wrongly believe it saves the
batteries, Sobel said.
crashes happen at night or in the early dawn, like the bus crash in Egypt
last December that killed at least eight Americans. Egypt has one of the highest
traffic death rates per person in the world, according to WHO, which broke down
road traffic death rates by country.
life-saving tips can be found in ASIRT’s Road
Travel Reports, which detail dangerous roads to avoid and driver behaviour
for more than 150 countries ($30 each; less for additional copies).