Planning on traveling overseas this summer? If you’re considering renting a car, it is important to do some research ahead of time – driving abroad can be an adventure in itself.
In more than 75 countries and territories, you drive on the left side of the road instead of the right, and the driver’s seat is on the right side of the car, rather than the left. There may be more minor differences in other countries—for instance roundabouts, or circular intersections, are used more frequently in Europe than on American roads.
Before hitting the road in a foreign country, ask yourself a few questions: Do you know if you can turn right on a red light? Is it legal to use a cell phone while driving? Is your U.S. driver’s license valid? To help you determine the answers to these questions and stay safe while driving abroad, AARP Driver Safety recommends the following four tips.
1. Apply for an International Driving Permit. Some countries will require you to have an International Driving Permit (IDP) to operate a vehicle, and it’s a valid form of identification in over 150 countries. According to the U.S. Department of State, the IDP functions as an official translation of a U.S. driver’s license into 10 foreign languages. While driving abroad, carry both your IDP and U.S. driver’s license with you at all times, in case both forms of identification are needed. Take some time to research driving in the country you are visiting to see if an IDP is necessary, then check with your local AAA or National Auto Club office for more information about how to obtain an IDP.
2. Familiarize yourself with local laws and customs. Many countries have different driving rules than the U.S., so check the U.S. Department of State’s country directory for traffic and safety information in the country you’re visiting. Use caution while driving abroad, especially if there are major differences in the rules of the road. For instance, if you must drive on the left side of the road, practice in a safe environment—like a secluded, pedestrian-free area—before attempting to drive in heavy traffic. If the country you are visiting uses the metric system in cars and on road signs (and most outside of the U.S. do), take some time to explore common conversions. For example, it may help to know that 30 kilometers per hour equates to approximately 19 miles per hour. Familiarize yourself with local speed limit laws, traffic laws, seatbelt laws and other restrictions.
3. Research the ins and outs of renting a car abroad. You may be more likely to experience a fender-bender in an unfamiliar area, especially in a country where you’re less accustomed to the driving rules and customs. Check your auto insurance policy before your trip to see if it covers you for damages incurred while renting abroad. Most policies don’t, but some may have a clause about driving in neighboring countries (such as Canada or Mexico). Keep in mind that some car rental companies overseas provide auto insurance, but the required coverage is usually minimal. Consider purchasing additional insurance coverage through the rental company that is at least equivalent to what you carry at home.
4. Study the route you will be traveling before hitting the road. Unfamiliar roads, traffic signs, and detours can throw you for a loop, and getting lost in an unfamiliar area can be stressful and unnerving. Using a GPS navigation system can help prevent you from getting lost, but we also recommend that you keep a good road map with you and chart your route before you begin driving. If you’re staying at a resort or hotel, check with the concierge for the easiest and safest route to your destination. If you do get lost, don’t be afraid to pull over to a well-lit gas station or rest stop and ask locals for directions—even with a language barrier, nonverbal communication such as pointing or drawing can be helpful. Still, use your best judgment and be cautious about whom you ask for information and where, as thieves target tourists in many countries.
For more tips on how to stay safe on the road, consider taking a driver improvement course, such as the AARP Driver Safety course, available in a classroom or online setting, in both English and Spanish. In some states, you may even be eligible for an insurance discount upon completion of the course.*
For more information, visit www.aarp.org/safedriving or call 1-888-AARP-NOW (1-888-227-7669).
*The insurance premium discount is not available in all states for the online or the classroom versions of the course. Please consult your insurance agent for further details.
Julie Lee, Vice President and National Director of AARP Driver Safety, has more than 30 years experience in management, strategic planning, transportation and safety. With AARP for over ten years, Lee directs the largest driver improvement course designed for drivers age 50 and older.