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With driving holidays increasing in popularity, one of the biggest concerns relates to how safe it is to drive in other countries. Driving in new surroundings, using a hire car and even coping with different weather conditions all bring a certain degree of risk.
In the UK in recent years, accidents, injuries and deaths related to automobiles have fallen due to many initiatives such as compulsory seat belts and drink driving awareness campaigns.
However, other countries have different 'driving cultures' and although some of these stereotypes are often wide of the mark, anyone planning on driving abroad should familiarise themselves with the levels of safety and the various different rules and regulations that might apply.
The European Commission collates data on many aspects of daily life across the 28 member nations, including road safety. The Annual Accident Report 2018 revealed that road traffic accidents across the European Union were responsible for around 25,600 deaths and in excess of 1.4 million injuries of varying degrees of seriousness in 2016 alone.
The European Council started the CARE project to evaluate the efficiency of road safety measures and to identify problem areas that need to be addressed. CARE is a community database on road accidents which cause death or injury, which means that no statistics on damage-only accidents are available for the entire EU, although these may be found in national data sets.
The CARE data is readily available online, with summary statistical tables and figures providing a snapshot of how different countries perform when it comes to road safety.
With some of the most stunning scenery in the world, Europe has much to offer when it comes to the flexibility of a driving holiday. Currently, those wishing to explore Europe can do so relatively easily, either by hiring a vehicle in their chosen destination or by taking their own car or motorhome across the Channel Tunnel or via a ferry. This may change following Brexit, but it is currently unclear what regulations will exist.
Driving in a foreign country for the first time can be a strange experience, especially as the UK is one of the few countries in the world to 'drive on the left'. This means that simple things such as overtaking and approaching junctions can be unfamiliar for drivers used to British roads, and this can be made more difficult if using a left-hand-drive car for the first time.
By doing a little homework and making sure that you are fully prepared for any challenges you may face, the act of driving abroad can be pleasurable and not a holiday-spoiling chore.
According to the data in the European Commission's Annual Accident Report 2018, the safest place to drive in Europe is Denmark, which has only five accidents per 10,000 residents per year. In second place is Cyprus with 7.5 accidents per 10,000 residents annually, followed by Finland with 8.5. The rest of the top five are made up of France with 8.6 and Poland with 8.9 accidents per 10,000 residents every year.
Although we may think of driving in the UK as being relatively safe, the UK only makes it to number 19 in the rankings with a figure of 21.6 accidents per 10,000 residents on a yearly basis. However, the bottom of the table sees Germany record 37.2 accidents and Austria a worryingly high figure of 43.6 per 10,000 residents.
Although it is unlikely that you will be taking your own vehicle further afield than the roads of Europe, driving holidays are extremely popular in the US where car hire can be a cost-effective way of seeing the full expanse of the country. However, traffic laws may differ from state to state and things such as smoking in a car that has minors in, could land you in trouble with the authorities in some places, but not others.
A report from Consumer Affairs pointed out that the higher speed limits that apply to many rural areas make the roads in the western part of the USA more dangerous, meaning driving from Montana to New Mexico could carry more risk than elsewhere. The report found that the top five most dangerous highways in the U.S. were U.S 1 in Florida, U.S 83 in Texas, Dalton Highway Alaska, I-15 Nevada and The Million Dollar Highway, New Mexico to Colorado.
Of course taking precautions can increase your chances of staying safe, even in areas where the roads are considered to be more dangerous. Knowing that your vehicle is in good roadworthy condition is an obvious starting point, as is knowing the local rules of the road such as speed limits, the documentation needed and any extra safety equipment that might be a legal requirement. For instance, French law states you must carry a breathalyser in your car at all times, while you need a reflective jacket and a warning triangle to be out on the road in Germany. These laws are not always thoroughly enforced, but they do carry hefty fines so it is not worth taking any risks.
Driving safely means doing so at your own speed and not being intimidated by other roads users to take chances you don't feel comfortable with. Regular breaks can keep you refreshed while planning ahead and knowing your route should help to avoid any last minute panicked turn-offs or adjustments.
Making sure you're properly insured for the country you are in is another basic requirement. This is usually covered quite simply if you are hiring a car, but you may need to check with your insurer that all eventualities are including in your current policy if you are taking your own vehicle overseas. It's always worth checking the excess that might be payable in the event of an incident too, as you may be able to cover a large excess with an additional car hire excess policy.