Rental Car Information and SafetyDescending from the skies into the hemisphere of a foreign country, the international traveler must next decide on a "modus operandi" for ground travel. Although the possibilities vary between destination countries, rental cars and trains continue to be the proverbial apple and orange of travel choice—each offering its own benefits, cost differences, and safety issues.
A rental car remains the most flexible and freeing mode of transportation. Car travelers can take their time meandering around the countryside, taking in the views, or even enjoying a spontaneous stop to walk beside a field of sunflowers or exploring a hilltop winery—options just not possible aboard a train. Rental cars allow your itinerary to be dictated by your whims rather than the last boarding call. Driving, however, presents its fair share of problems.
Road accidents are the leading cause of accidental death for Americans. Outside the United States, the risk of death by a road accident is from 20 to 70 times higher, according to the Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT), with developing countries being the most dangerous. Despite these ominous figures, there are precautions you can take to increase the safety of road travel in other countries.
One way to combat the statistics is to familiarize yourself with road conditions and driver behaviors of your destination country before you arrive. ASIRT is one of several organizations offering travel safety tips. This non-profit organization offers Road Travel Reports (RTRs) to travelers on a donation basis. These RTRs provide details on road conditions, driver behaviors, seasonal hazards, traffic safety statistics compared to U.S. statistics, a list of the most dangerous roads in the country selected, and other specific road information. For example, in an RTR on Italy, ASIRT reports that "Drivers often ignore red lights, drive on the sidewalk and zoom around each other, crisscrossing through wide intersections." Another section of the RTR on Italy warns drivers in Northern Italy of ground fog and the corresponding poor visibility, which causes many multiple-car accidents each year. Knowing such potential problem areas and local driver habits can give you a head start on safety.
Insist on Safe TransportationWhen renting a car, make sure the vehicle is equipped with working seat belts, lights and turn signals. Driving with your headlights on reduces the chance of being in a collision with another vehicle by 30 percent, according to the Moto Europa Guidebook. (Note: Some countries do not allow use of headlights during the day. Please check with your travel agent or rental car agency for the local "rules of the road".)
Arrange for a Car Rental Before You Leave HomeKemwel Holiday Autos is one of the largest European car rental brokers with an easily navigable Web site (see below). Go to their site for a country-by-country layout of driving rules, basic breakdown of insurance regulations, geographical restrictions, weekly rates, leasing information and locations. You can arrange all the details on-line and save yourself the headache of trying to read the fine print of policies and regulations in a foreign language once there.
Read Up on Insurance RequirementsTo make your car rental experience easier, read up on insurance requirements of your destination country before you go abroad. The American Automobile Association or your auto insurance agent may be able to provide this information. Quite often, if you use your credit card to pay for a car rental, it will cover insurance. If this is the case with your credit card, request a copy of your company's collision insurance waiver to show to the car rental agency to avoid additional costs.
Familiarize Yourself With the VehicleTake a few moments to familiarize yourself with the control panels and instruments, before pulling into traffic.
Always Wear Your Seatbelt!When on vacation, we often ease up on general safety precautions. According to the Automotive Coalition for Traffic Safety, Inc., wearing your seatbelt can reduce risk of fatality by 45 percent and can reduce moderate to critical injury by 50 percent for passengers riding in the front seat.
International Drivers' Permit
What Is It?
The International Drivers' Permit, or IDP, is a document that provides a translation of important information from your state driver's license. This white, multi-page booklet resembles a passport, and bears a current photo and signature. No test is necessary, and it is good for one year. An International Drivers' Permit is valid only when accompanied by your current state driver's license, and must be issued by the same country that issued your license. A Turkish national, living in L.A. and driving with a California license, must apply for an American IDP.
Be wary of web sites that claim to offer an International Drivers' License as many scams exist. Only two organizations in the U.S. are authorized by the State Department to offer an International Drivers' Permit, the National Automobile Club and American Automobile Association. The cost is only $10. Scam artists may sell you a worthless, similar looking document or simply charge an additional fee to obtain and IDP from a valid source.
In 1949, the United Nations established the IDP to assist international motorists while driving overseas. Now accepted in 200 countries, each IDP carries translations in the following languages: English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, Arabic, Chinese, Russian and Japanese.
What It Isn't...
An International Driver's Permit is NOT a license to drive. If your license has been revoked, suspended or restricted in any way, you may NOT use the IDP as a substitute license. When asked for a driving license overseas, you must show both permit and license at the same time. If a web site claims that their International DL is a legal substitute for your state Driver's License - don't believe it! Call the DMV first and get your facts straight.
But I Won't Be Driving...
Even if you don't plan to drive, the IDP is handy as a photo ID in tricky situations. Should local authorities want to actually hold your passport, you can sometimes convince them to keep the IDP instead. If you are arrested, or involved in a traffic mishap, it's very helpful to have a document that is recognized and translated into many languages. Besides, you might need to drive a sick friend to the hospital and wind up in a fender-bender. The IDP is just like insurance - it's useful in emergencies.
Where Do I Find It?
National Automobile Club or American Automobile Association
You may also apply in person for an IDP at any local AAA office
Additional Travel Information
- AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety
Rental Car Information
Excerpted from articles by Martine White and Kristin Anderson