A friend of mine told me about a recent trip to Italy. She and her husband rented a little house in the countryside, and because they were going to be living there for 10 days, having a car was necessity. They rented a car and drove mainly on rural roads, after studying what the foreign road signs meant.
All went well until they drove to the city of Florence to meet her sister. There were signs all over the place that they couldn’t read. They did the best they could and all seemed to go well, having not run over anybody or caused an accident. Months after arriving home, they received a letter saying they owed over $400 in traffic fines. All were from that one day in the city. Apparently, video cameras had caught them parking and standing illegally in a few different places. Needless to say they were aghast.
After hearing this story, I wondered about Americans driving abroad in a country where the language is foreign to them.
Thousands and thousands of Americans travel out of the country every day for business or pleasure. Many rent a car, even though they do not know the language of the country they are visiting. If travelers decide to do this, they must know the rules of the road before driving in a particular country to keep themselves and others safe. They needn’t despair. Information on driving laws and signs is available.
An organization called the “Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT)” has a website that provides travelers with all kinds of information to minimize road risks when driving in a foreign country. All you need to do is register at no cost. You can input the country you are going to visit and get the information you need.
You might not know…
Perusing the site, I came across a few interesting local driving oddities and horros that may make you absolutely adore U.S. traffic.
- A traveler to Iceland found that in Reykjavik, cars park anywhere and everywhere – blocking entrances, turned backwards, and obscuring sidewalks. His taxi cab driver’s theory for this was that Icelanders are so used to having as much space as they need that it doesn’t occur to them to not park wherever they want, even in a city where space is limited. It’s not unusual to find a car only halfway pulled into a marked parking spot.
- Sidewalks in Rome are not safety zones for pedestrians. Motorcycles and cars park on them and scooters use them to dodge in and out of street traffic.
- Some say not to rent a car in Costa Rica, if you are going somewhere out of the cities. Some of the roads are made of rocks and boulders, suitable for hiking only, with many of the roads impassable. Don’t trust a GPS, because these roads are included in their directions.
- Passenger vans (called dolla-dollas) are a common way to travel in Tanzania and are responsible for a healthy percentage of traffic deaths in the country. Many are in terrible condition, and their drivers speed and careen over poorly maintained roads. Their motorcycle taxis are safer, but they are involved in a lot of crashes as well.
- You might want to reconsider a walk in Maputo, the capital of Mozambique. It is a pedestrian’s nightmare. The sidewalk’s concrete is often broken up into big blocks caused by tree roots. There are random holes, piles of dirt, garbage and parked cars, and they are crowded with people.
- Many roads throughout Bali, Indonesia are two-way roads, but the entire width of the road is the size of one lane, with of course, no stripe down the middle. Most of these roads don’t have much of a shoulder either. ‘Nuff said about that.
Study and research before you go
An estimated 1.24 million people die every year on the roads of the world. Fifty million more are injured. As the ASIRT site wisely states, “The safest traveler is the well-informed traveler. Prepare yourself by learning about country-specific road safety conditions and access the ASIRT website for road safety resources.”
“Know before you go” so that you can truly enjoy your travels.
Please. Be safe out there.
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