Pic: Lars Leetaru

Terrorism, infectious disease and crime are common worries for travelers, but we’re all much more likely to be hurt or killed on the world’s roads. Many of us don’t drive when abroad — instead we enjoy bus tours, taxis or other private vehicles, but that doesn’t mean you’re at the whim of your driver. Here are some tips to stay safe on the roads when traveling, even when you’re not at the wheel.

Plan Ahead: 

Guidebooks and other tourism materials typically do not include much information on road safety, said Rochelle Sobel, the founder of the Association for Safe International Travel. Checking the U.S. State Department’s website is a good place to start, as it provides general and country-specific safety advice, including dangerous highways to avoid and common driver behavior.

Learn the Local Road Culture:

It pays to pay attention to the ways locals handle the roads both at the wheel and as pedestrians. 

“Watch what locals do and how they protect themselves,” Sobel said. Young travelers often want to experience a place like a local, but popular, inexpensive and fast modes often have poor safety records. Do your diligence before you hop on a packed bus or rickety tram just because it offers a so-called authentic experience.

Ask Questions: 

How are recommended drivers and bus companies checked out. If you book a bus on your own, use established companies or companies that freely and openly disclose their safety records and policies.

Before you take a long bus trip, ask about the route and whether it’s a standard route that the driver has taken before. Well-maintained and well-lit roads are preferable to smaller ones and have 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 backup for long journeys. Most bus and tour companies that operate aboveboard 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 early dawn hours is strongly discouraged because drivers often turn 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:

Bottom line, if something seems amiss, speak up. If drivers are being reckless or speeding, politely ask them to slow down. Be assertive. If you don’t speak the language, ask a local to assist.

Avoid buses in poor condition or that are crowded and top-heavy, which can offset the center of gravity. Check if the bus’s tires are bald or low on air, or if the name of the company on the bus is unclear. After a crash, bus companies often close down, repaint their vehicles and reopen under new names. Sobel said, 

“Look at the vehicle and ask yourself, is this the wisest choice?”

New York Times