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Road Safety Overseas

An estimated 1.17 million deaths occur each year worldwide due to road accidents. The majority of these deaths, about 70 percent, occur in developing countries. Sixty-five percent of deaths involve pedestrians and 35 percent of pedestrian deaths are children. Over 10 million people are crippled or injured each year.

It is estimated that more than 200 U.S. citizens die each year due to road accidents abroad. The majority of road crash victims (injuries and fatalities) in developing countries are not the motor vehicle occupants, but pedestrians, motorcyclists, bicyclists and non-motor vehicles (NMV) occupants. U.S. citizens are urged to review the Road Safety segment of the Department of State's Consular Information Sheets.

You may also want to review specific country Background Notes for any country in which you intend to drive or travel by road as a passenger. Check with the embassy or consulate of the countries where you will visit to learn about requirements for driver's licenses, road permits, and auto insurance. It is important to be aware of the rules of the road in other countries, and the fact that road conditions can vary widely.

It is also important to be aware of security concerns when driving abroad. Driving under the influence of alcohol or other intoxicants can have severe criminal penalties in other countries. International road safety continues to be a matter of growing concern to governments, international organizations, non-government organizations and private citizens.

The United Nations has designated April 23-29, 2007, as Global Road Safety Week. Member nations are invited to organize and host public awareness activities to underscore the preventable nature of road traffic crashes and to educate the public on the impact that accidents have on global health.

The U.S. government is working with its bilateral and multilateral partners, governments, industry groups and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) worldwide to raise awareness about global road safety.

For more information on Road Safety Week visit:

•    Department of State
•    World Health Organization
•    First United Nations Global Road Safety Week
•    Centers for Disease Control

Road Security

The Overseas Security Advisory Council's publications provide information about security and auto travel abroad.

•    Carjacking - Don't be a victim
•    Personal Security - At Home, On the Street, While Traveling

Potential victims of kidnapping and assault are probably most vulnerable when entering or leaving their homes or offices. Always carefully observe surroundings for possible surveillance upon leaving and returning. Never enter a car without checking the rear seat to ensure that it is empty.

Do not develop predictable patterns. If possible, exchange company cars or swap with coworkers occasionally. Know the location of police, hospital, military, and government buildings. Avoid trips to remote areas, particularly after dark. Select well-traveled streets as much as possible. Keep vehicles well-maintained at all times. When driving, remember to keep automobile doors and windows locked. Be constantly alert to road conditions and surroundings. Never pick up hitchhikers.

Carry 3 x 5 cards printed with important assistance phrases to aid with language problems. Always carry appropriate coins for public phones. Practice using public telephones. Report all suspicious activity to the company security contact if applicable. Always lock the doors when parking a car, no matter where it is located.

International Driving Permits

Although many countries do not recognize U.S. driver's licenses, most countries accept an international driving permit (IDP). IDPs are honored in more than 150 countries outside the U.S. (See AAA’s application form for the list of countries. They function as an official translation of a U.S. driver's license into 10 foreign languages. These licenses are not intended to replace valid U.S. state licenses and should only be used as a supplement to a valid license. IDPs are not valid in an individual’s country of residence. Before departure, you can obtain one from an automobile association authorized by the U.S. Department of State to issue IDPs. Article 24 of the United Nations Convention on Road Traffic (1949) authorizes the U.S. Department of State to empower certain organizations to issue IDPs to those who hold valid U.S. driver’s licenses. The Department has designated the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance as the only authorized distributors of IDPs.

Many foreign countries require deposit of a customs duty or an equivalent bond for each tourist automobile entering its territory, and the motoring associations are equipped with the necessary facilities for providing expeditiously a standard bond document (Article 3 of the Convention). The Convention is not applicable to United States motorists using their cars in the United States.


Before departure, you can obtain one at a local office of one of the two automobile associations authorized by the U.S. Department of State: the American Automobile Association and the American Automobile Touring Alliance.

•    AAA (American Automobile Association) , 1000 AAA Drive, Heathrow, FL 32745-5063. The application is available on-line.

•    National Auto Club, 1151 E. Hillsdale Blvd., Foster City, CA 94404, tel: 800-622-2136 or 800-294-7000 ; fax: 650-294-7040

To apply for an international driving permit, you must be at least age 18, and you will need to present two passport-size photographs and your valid U.S. license. The cost of an international driving permit from these U.S. State Department-authorized organizations is under $20.00.

The Department of State is aware that IDPs are being sold over the Internet and in person by persons not authorized by the Department of State pursuant to the requirements of the U.N. Convention of 1949. Moreover, many of these IDPs are being sold for large sums of money, far greater than the sum charged by entities authorized by the Department of State. Consumers experiencing problems should report problems to their local office of the U.S. Postal Inspector, Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the Better Business Bureau, or their state or local Attorney General’s Office.

Auto Insurance

Car rental agencies overseas usually provide auto insurance, but in some countries, the required coverage is minimal. When renting a car overseas, consider purchasing insurance coverage that is at least equivalent to that which you carry at home. In general, your U.S. auto insurance does not cover you abroad. However, your policy may apply when you drive to countries neighboring the United States. Check with your insurer to see if your policy covers you in Canada, Mexico, or countries south of Mexico. Even if your policy is valid in one of these countries, it may not meet that country’s minimum requirements. For instance, in most of Canada, you must carry at least $200,000 in liability insurance, and Mexico requires that, if vehicles do not carry theft, third party liability, and comprehensive insurance, the owner must post a bond that could be as high as 50% of the value of the vehicle. If you are under-insured for a country, auto insurance can usually be purchased on either side of the border.

Driving Abroad

The U.S. Department of State, Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC) provides brochures for American families and business travelers abroad for guidance about driving overseas.

•    Security – Families Abroad
•    Security - Business Travelers Abroad
•    OSAC Publications


•    Obtain an International Driving Permit (IDP).
•    Carry both your IDP and your state driver's license with you at all times. As many countries have different driving rules. If possible, obtain a copy of     the foreign country’s rules before you begin driving in that country. Information may be available from the foreign embassy in the United States, foreign government tourism offices, or from a car rental company in the foreign country.
•    Some countries have a minimum and maximum driving age.
•    Certain countries require road permits, instead of tolls, to use on their divided highways, and they will fine those found driving without a permit.
•    Always "buckle up." Some countries have penalties for people who violate this law.
•    Many countries require you to honk your horn before going around a sharp corner or to flash your lights before passing.
•    Before you start your journey, find out who has the right of way in a traffic circle.
•    If you rent a car, make sure you have liability insurance. If you do not, this could lead to financial disaster.
•    If the drivers in the country you are visiting drive on the opposite side of the road than in the U.S., it may be prudent to practice driving in a less populated area before attempting to drive in heavy traffic.
•    Always know the route you will be traveling. Have a copy of a good road map, and chart your course before beginning.
•    Do not pick up hitchhikers or strangers.
•    When entering your vehicle, be aware of your surroundings.

Treaties on Roads and Transport

The United States is a party to two multilateral treaties regarding roads and transport:

•    Convention on the Regulation of Inter-American Automotive Traffic (1943); 61 Stat. 1129; TIAS 1567; 3 Bevans 865.
•    Convention on Road Traffic (1949); 3 UST 3008; TIAS 2487; 125 UNTS 22, United Nations (UN) under Databases/Treaties. 

The United States is not a party to: Hague Convention on the Law Applicable to Traffic Accidents, (1971) , now in force in Austria, Belgium, Croatia, the Czech Republic, The former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, France, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Switzerland, Belarus and Bosnia and Herzegovina, the U.N. Convention on Road Traffic, (1968) , or, the Agreement on the Adoption of the Inter-American Manual on Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways, (1979), now in force in: Colombia.

Reports on International Road Safety
•    Communication from the Commission to the Council, The European Parliament, the Economic and Social Committee and the Committee of the Regions, Priorities in EU Road Safety, Progress Report and Ranking of Actions, Brussels, March 17, 2000
•    Working Party on Road Traffic Safety, UN/ECE, August 17, 2006: Future Work
•    Consolidated Resolution on Road Traffic, Revision 5, January 1998, Inland Transport Committee, Economic commission for Europe
•    OECD: Safety of Vulnerable Road Users, August 1998

U.S. Government Links
•    Department of Transportation
•    International Road Web Sites, U.S. Department of Transportation
•    DWI Rules of Other Countries, U.S. Department of Transportation
•    Department of Transportation, National Center for Statistics and Analysis (NCSA)
•    National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA)
•    National Highway Traffic Safety Administration: International Activities
•    Federal Highway Administration
•    National Transportation Safety Board
•    Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS)

Road Safety Statistics / Databases
•    Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) 
•    International Road Traffic and Accident Database (IRTAD)
•    UN, Economic Commission for Europe, Transport Division: Road Accident Statistics
•    EU, Community Road Accident Database (CARE)
•    Monash University (Australia): Comparison of Internationa Road Fatality Rates

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