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Driving Overseas? Watch out for these…

November 8, 2013 Corporate No Comments Email Email

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.  Over the last year, 8.5% of claims received by Travel Insurance Direct related to driving in some way or another.  That’s not all – according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there are 1.24 million road traffic deaths worldwide every year.[i]  It’s a scary thought, given so many travellers hire cars, scooters and bicycles to help them get around.

Most drivers are confident in their own abilities, and most drivers (men in particular) also think they’re better than they actually are.[ii] To top it off, drivers tend to blame anyone and anything other than themselves.[iii]  So it’s important to consider potential differences in driving rules and behaviours ahead of travelling to ensure you are well prepared.  From driving on the other side of the road to experiencing road rage in Turkey, driving in another country can be challenging, intimidating and downright dangerous.

“Always check the road rules before travelling – you can save yourself a lot of unnecessary hassle.  It’s also important to be aware of how other drivers or pedestrians might react.  This is hard enough in another city, let alone another country where you mightn’t be able to read the road signs!” said Phil Sylvester, TID’s Head of Content and Travel Safety Specialist.


Rentals:  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 car-less and out of pocket!

Roads:  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 as bicycles and mopeds.  It’s also illegal to stop unnecessarily. Ran out of fuel?  That’s preventable, and the police will issue a fine.

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

Scooters:  Despite what the scooter rental shop says, licences are essential for tourists in Southeast Asia.  Sometimes a home country licence will suffice, sometimes an International Driver’s Permit will be necessary, and in some cases a test for a local licence is required.  When it comes to travel insurance, its simple – no valid licence in the country where the accident occurred means no cover.  Illegal activity can never be insured. (Note: TID’s Tripwise app has details on which licences are required.  Tripwise is available with a TID policy or can be trialled for free.  See for more information.) 


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.

Thailand:  Thailand 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.[iv]  Of these, road deaths, 3.75% happen to Australians on motorbikes and scooters alone – that’s almost 99 Australians killed each year.  Think about that when renting a bike in Phuket!

France:  It is illegal to use a device, like a GPS or a smart phone 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 enabled devices to comply with French law.  Possessing a radar detector is illegal and will incur heavy fines, even if it’s turned off.

Spain:  Always check the vehicle’s tyres before driving off.  TID 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 with the door locked, politely decline offers from ‘friendly strangers’ and call a roadside assistance company.  The rental company should provide these details.

Austria:  When travelling on the Autobahn in Lower Austria, watch out for bogus police in ‘plain clothes’ 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.

USA:  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.

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