Road Safety Overseas
Did you know over a million people are killed in road accidents every year? That most of the victims are not even in the car, but bystanders? That hundreds of U.S. citizens are among those killed and injured in these accidents? Can you avoid becoming one of them? We have a Road Safety section in every Country Specific Information page. Please read it to see if you want to drive in the place(s) you are going. It is important to understand the rules and laws of the road in other countries:
- Can you turn right on a red light?
- Can you use a cell phone while driving?
- What happens if you have alcohol on your breath? Many countries have “no tolerance” policies concerning driving under the influence of drugs and/or alcohol and criminal penalties can be severe.
The U.S. Department of State’s Overseas Security Advisory Council's publications provide information about personal security and safety while traveling abroad.
International Driving Permits
Although many countries do not recognize U.S. driver's licenses, most countries accept an International Driving Permit (IDP). An IDP functions as an official translation of a U.S. driver's license into 10 foreign languages.
How to Apply for an International Driving Permit
Before departure, you can obtain an IDP at a local office of one of the two automobile associations authorized by the U.S. Department of State:
To apply for an IDP, you must:
- be at least age 18
- present two passport-size photographs and
- present your valid U.S. license
The cost of an IDP from these U.S. State Department-authorized organizations is less than $20.00.
Car rental companies overseas usually provide auto insurance, but in some countries, the required coverage is minimal. When renting a car overseas, consider purchasing additional insurance coverage that is at least equivalent to what you carry at home.In general, your U.S. auto insurance does NOT cover you abroad; however, your policy may apply when you drive to countries neighboring the United States. Check with your insurer before you leave to see if your policy covers you in Canada, Mexico, or countries south of Mexico. Even if your policy is valid, it may not meet that country’s minimum requirement. If you are under-insured for a particular country, auto insurance can usually be purchased separately on either side of the border.
Driving Abroad Safely and Securely
The U.S. Department of State’s Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) and the organization Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT) provide information for American families and business travelers about driving overseas:
- Security – Families Abroad
- Security – Business Travelers Abroad
- OSAC Publications
- Association for Safe International Road Travel
Tips on Driving Abroad
- Obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP).
- Carry both your IDP and your U.S. state driver's license with you at all times, as many countries have different driving rules. If possible, obtain a copy of the foreign country’s driving laws before you begin driving in that country. Information may be available from the foreign country’s embassy in the United States, foreign government tourism offices, or from a car rental company in the foreign country.
- Check to see if the country of destination has a minimum and maximum driving age.
- Be aware that certain countries require special road permits, instead of tolls, to use their divided highways, and they will fine those found driving without a permit.
- Always "buckle up." Some countries have penalties for people who violate this law.
- Many countries require you to honk your horn before going around a sharp corner or to flash your lights before passing.
- If you rent a car, make sure you have liability insurance. If you do not, this could lead to financial hardship.
- If the drivers in the country you are visiting drive on the left side of the road, it may be prudent to practice driving in a less populated area before attempting to drive in heavy traffic.
- Always know the route you will be traveling. Have a good road map, and chart your course before beginning.
- Do not pick up hitchhikers or strangers.
- When entering or exiting your vehicle, be aware of your surroundings.
Reporting and Resources on International Road Safety
- United Nations Road Safety Collaboration
- World Health Organization, World Report on Road Traffic Injury Prevention
- European Red Cross Road Safety Campaign
- U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, International Programs
U.S. Government Links
- Department of Transportation
- DWI Rules of Other Countries, U.S. Department of Transportation
- Department of Transportation, National Center for Statistics and Analysis (NCSA)
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
- National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: International Activities
- Federal Highway Administration
- National Transportation Safety Board
- Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS)
Road Safety Statistics / Databases / Resources
- Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD)
- International Road Traffic and Accident Database (IRTAD)
- UN, Economic Commission for Europe, Transport Division: Road Accident Statistics
- EU, Community Road Accident Database (CARE)
- Monash University (Australia): Comparison of International Road Fatality Rates
- Bureau of Transportation, Africa Road Safety Review
- UN, Economic Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific
- Association for Safe International Road Travel
- International Road Federation
- Global Road Safety Partnership