The Road Less Travelled: Driving and Traffic Safety Tips for World Travellers
The Family Truckster and Other Dangers on the Road
If you were alive in the 80’s, you’ll most likely remember lol’ing while watching Chevy Chase careen off dirt roads, or drift into oncoming freeway traffic in the iconic, yet extremely ugly, “Wagon Queen Family Truckster.”
Indeed, the National Lampoon, Vacation movies mythologized and hyperbolized the age-old family vacation experience. Of course, talking to most people, you’ll find they have their own “travel disaster stories,” some of which rival those of the sophomoric comedy franchise!
Truth, as they say, is often stranger than fiction.
While those events may make for great cocktail party stories, in the moment, they are anxiety-inducing and even terrifying. Perhaps, more to the point, many of these disasters could’ve been avoided if travelers took the time to take a few easy precautions. Here are some helpful travel hacks to consider before heading out on your next adventure!
Know the Traffic
A staunch New Yorker, Woody Allen famously criticized Los Angeles, lamenting, “its only cultural advantage is that you can make a right turn on a red light.” Whether that’s a fair assessment of LA is, perhaps, fodder for another blog, but what is a valid point is that traffic laws, patterns, and rules differ vastly depending on what state, country and continent you’re traveling in. Case in point, turning right on a red light is illegal in most countries in Europe!
Across the Pond (and Beyond)
England is an obvious example of a country with very different traffic than ours. Indeed, right-hand drive cars are tricky to get used to and downright dangerous if driven without prior practice. If you aren’t confident driving on the other side of the road (or car), it’s best to take the many other forms of transportation available in the UK. Between the subway, trains, buses, taxis, and Uber, there is no need to drive if you don’t want to. The best way to avoid a car accident is to avoid driving a car!
Look Both Ways…
While driving may be optional when visiting the UK, walking is not. While you may have been a pro since the age of 7 at crossing the street, many visitors to England are injured every year due to looking the wrong way before crossing the street. It’s an easy mistake to make, as we are so conditioned to look to the left, not the right, for oncoming traffic in North America.
Pedestrians vs Cars
In many countries, the car is king. Unlike most places in Canada, cars in many other countries may not stop for you if you are waiting at a crosswalk, and, more importantly, if you are crossing the street, don’t assume they will stop either! Pedestrians in other countries often don’t have the right-of-way, and it’s imperative that you exercise extreme caution around traffic, especially in large urban centres.
The reality is that road traffic accidents, including car collisions, vehicles hitting pedestrians and cyclists, account for the biggest cause of death for otherwise healthy travellers. No laughing matter.
Roundabouts and Other Traffic Anomalies
Roundabouts are a good example of tricky traffic anomalies that we don’t experience much here in Canada. It can be difficult getting on and off of these circular conundrums and dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing.
It’s best to inform yourself of the rules before attempting one, lest you get perpetually stuck in a traffic loop, like the Griswold’s in European Vacation (look kids, Big Ben!), or worse, cause an unnecessary traffic accident.
A helpful resource to learn about how to negotiate roundabouts and traffic in Europe can be found by clicking the link below:
Don’t Get Distracted!
Christie Brinkley in a Red Ferrari may have been Clark Griswold’s lone (yet dangerous) distraction in the 1980’s, but today we have so many more potential distractions when traveling.
Turf the Text
Avoid texting, or checking your phone while driving. It’s not only extremely dangerous but illegal in most countries in Europe.
Whether you’re using your smartphone or a GPS device, it’s best to plug in your destination before you start driving and follow the voice commands, keeping your eyes on the road at all times. If you think you’re lost, pull over when it’s safe to consult your GPS or smartphone rather than fidget with these devices while driving!
Consider Car Condition
The risk of accidents is especially high in resource-poor destinations: 90% of fatalities on the road happen in low- or middle-income countries (many in South-East Asia).
Vehicles in such places may not have seat belts, and lights and brakes may not work. Before getting into a vehicle in such locales, be sure to familiarize yourself with its condition and take the necessary precautions.
Keep Calm and Drive On
It’s easy to get frazzled when driving in foreign countries. What with toll booths, higher freeway speeds, and different traffic signs, it can be daunting experience behind the wheel.
The best way to deal with escalating stress is to remember to breathe, keep calm and alert. Losing your cool is a recipe for accidents! Don’t worry if you take a wrong turn–you can always circle back. Keep to the slow lane if you are uncomfortable driving at higher speeds. If you are tired or overly-stressed, find a safe place to pull over and take a break.