Travel-related accidents kill more workers than any other hazard. That’s why we often talk about how to keep workers safe on the roads here in the United States. But what about workers who travel abroad, where the rules and vehicle standards are different? Where the roadway construction, engineering, traffic management, and even signage are less thoroughly regulated? And where the territory and customs are unfamiliar?
Travel at your own risk
Each year, more than 1.2 million people are killed, and as many as 50 million injured, in traffic accidents worldwide. Ninety percent of global traffic-related fatalities occur in low- and middle-income countries.
We know that traffic accidents are the leading cause of workplace deaths in the United States, but consider this—they are also the leading cause of death for healthy Americans abroad. However bad the problem is here, when you travel abroad, especially in poorer nations, it is far, far worse. Prepare your workers who travel with information about how to stay safe.
Driver safety abroad
International travelers have access to safety information through a number of organizations, including the U.S. State Department. For workers who will be driving while working abroad, the State Department provides the following guidance:
You need a license to drive. In most countries, it is illegal to drive without a license, and your U.S. license probably isn’t acceptable. Most, but not all, countries recognize an International Driving Permit (IDP). These permits may be valid only for a limited time or only with a valid U.S. license. You can obtain one through the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA).
You need insurance. Your U.S. policy may not cover you abroad, and it might not meet the requirements of the country you’re traveling to. You’ll probably need to buy a policy specifically for your travel needs. If you’re renting a car, you can usually buy insurance through the rental agency, but check the coverage limits to be sure they’re sufficient.
You need your papers. In the United States, if you’re stopped, you need your driver’s license and registration or rental agreement. Likewise, when you’re traveling abroad, you may need to carry specific documents, including roadway permits.
You need to be vigilant about vehicle safety. In the United States, where newer vehicles are generally well equipped and roadside assistance is widely available, you may not need to inspect your vehicle frequently. However, if you’re traveling abroad, find out in advance what kind of roadside assistance is available (if any) and how to contact assistance agencies or local emergency numbers.
To ensure that you won’t need roadside assistance, inspect any vehicle you’re going to be driving —as well as any vehicle you’ll be riding in, if possible—for safety basics, including spare tires, plenty of fuel, functioning headlights and brakes, and maps.
Know the territory. Look into potential hazards and road conditions in the country you’re traveling to in advance, and pay attention to local roads or areas you should avoid. Contact the country’s embassy or the U.S. Consulate to learn about local laws and driving culture.
Wear your seat belt. Basic driving safety behaviors—like wearing your seat belt, obeying the posted speed limit, and avoiding distractions—are applicable wherever you are.
Passenger safety abroad
Often, workers who travel abroad will use taxis and public transportation rather than attempting to drive in unfamiliar territory. But even public transportation can be hazardous. The Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT) offers these safety tips for passengers abroad:
Plan ahead. Know which modes of transportation are available where you’re going, and plan to use the safest ones. Try to determine which bus and taxi companies have good safety records.
Exercise good judgment. If a bus, minivan, or taxi appears to be in poor condition, or if it is overloaded and top-heavy, don’t board. If the driver of a vehicle appears to be impaired in any way—due to drug or alcohol use, fatigue, or distraction and irritability—don’t take it. If once you’re on the bus or in the taxi, you discover that the driver is operating the vehicle recklessly or irresponsibly, speak up. If the situation doesn’t improve, disembark as soon as you can do so safely.
Look out for your basic safety. If you take a taxi, choose one with functional, accessible seat belts. Ride in the back seat, and buckle up.
Watch for traffic. When you’re entering or exiting a vehicle, be aware of your surroundings and any approaching traffic. Drivers in foreign countries sometimes stop for boarding and disembarking in the middle of the road.
Report reckless driving. Let the taxi or bus company and the embassy know about reckless driving. ASIRT also takes reports of unsafe operators.
In other countries, cars may not have crumple zones and airbags. If you’re renting a vehicle, move the driver’s and
front passenger’s seats back as far as possible.
Pedestrian safety abroad
More than one-fifth of global traffic fatalities are pedestrians. If you’re traveling abroad, you need to be aware of traffic safety while you’re on foot, not just while you’re in a vehicle. ASIRT offers these safety tips for pedestrians:
Pay attention. Make an effort to learn and be aware of local traffic patterns, pedestrian rules, and conventions. Observe whether pedestrian rights are generally respected; in some areas, they are not. Watch for reckless driving behaviors, too—in some nations, they are more common than they are in the United States.
Be visible. Avoid areas where you cannot be easily seen. Wear bright clothing during the day and reflective clothing after dark.
Don’t jaywalk. Cross roads only at designated crosswalks.
Be especially careful at intersections. The traffic patterns may be different in other parts of the world. Be observant, and know what the traffic can be expected to do. Also, signals, lights, and signage may be located in different places than you would expect, so watch for them.
Look right-left-right. In countries where the traffic pattern is opposite that of the United States, make sure you look in the correct directions before you step off the curb.
Use the sidewalk. If no sidewalk is available, walk on the side of the road that faces oncoming traffic.