Checklist for road safety abroad

Bus tours are a good way to explore a city on a holiday. Pick a reliable bus company for a safe ride.
Bus tours are a good way to explore a city on a holiday. Pick a reliable bus company for a safe ride.PHOTO: REUTERS

BOSTON • Terrorism, infectious disease and crime are common worries for travellers, but people are much more likely to be hurt or killed on the world's roads.

Many do not drive when abroad. Instead, they enjoy bus tours or travel in taxis and other private vehicles. Here are some tips to stay safe on the roads, even when you are not at the wheel.

Plan ahead: Guidebooks and other tourism materials typically do not include much information on road safety, said Ms Rochelle Sobel, founder of the Association for Safe International Travel.

Checking the website of the United States' State Department is a good place to start, as it provides general and country-specific safety advice, including dangerous highways - such as mountain roads in Nepal - to avoid, and common driver behaviour.

Learn the local road culture: It pays to pay attention to the ways local residents handle the roads, both at the wheel and as pedestrians. "Watch what locals do and how they protect themselves," Ms Sobel said.

An example is Vietnam where pedestrians just wade into oncoming traffic, confident that the endless stream of motorbikes will just weave round them.

Young travellers often want to experience a place like a local resident, but popular, inexpensive and fast modes - such as jeepneys in the Philippines - may have poor safety records.

Do your due diligence before you hop on a packed bus or rickety tram and not just because it offers a so-called authentic experience.

Ask questions: Find out how recommended drivers and bus companies are checked out.

If you book a bus on your own, use established companies or those that freely and openly disclose their safety records and policies.

There may be websites where people pool reviews and alert you to what you can expect.

Before you take a long bus trip, ask about the route and whether it is a standard run the driver has taken before.

Well-maintained and well-lit roads are preferable to smaller ones and provide better access for emergency medical services should they be necessary.

Ask if the driver has been behind the wheel for more than eight hours and if there is back-up for long journeys. Most legitimate bus and tour companies should be willing to have this conversation with you.

Avoid night travel: In many countries, particularly in rural areas, taking a bus at night or in the early dawn hours is strongly discouraged because drivers often switch off their headlights - they falsely believe it saves the vehicle's batteries.

The danger is exacerbated when roads are in bad condition, where visibility is poor and in mountain areas with narrow, winding roads.

Spot red flags before you depart: If something seems amiss, speak up. If drivers are being reckless or speeding, politely ask them to slow down.

Be assertive. If you do not speak the language, ask a local passenger to assist you.

Avoid buses in poor condition or that are crowded and top-heavy, which can offset the centre of gravity. Check if the tyres are bald or low on air, or if the name of the company on the vehicle is unclear.

After a crash, bus companies often close down, repaint their fleets and reopen under new names

Ms Sobel said: "Look at the vehicle and ask yourself, is this the wisest choice?"


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 29, 2018, with the headline 'Checklist for road safety abroad'. Print Edition | Subscribe