Motor vehicle accidents – not crime, not terrorism, and certainly not natural disasters – are the highest cause of American deaths in foreign countries.
As worldwide economics change, many more people in many more countries are gaining the ability to drive, crowding roads even further and causing road safety issues around the globe.
While local residents bear most of the risk of death and injury, travelers are particularly vulnerable because of their lack of familiarity with the local surroundings, road conditions, and driving laws. In cases like these, it’s good to know that travel insurance covers rental cars.
Get the Facts about Driving Overseas
In 2004, the World Health Organization and the World Bank published a joint report: World report on road traffic injury prevention, indicating that 1.2 million people are killed in road crashes each year and as high as 50 million are injured or disabled.
Even worse, 85% of those deaths are in low- to middle-income countries, and predictions indicate that worldwide traffic fatalities will increase to 2.3 million by the year 2020.
While traffic accidents occur everywhere, much of the most recent growth in motor vehicle usage is in developing countries where the roads were built to standards less than we’re used to here in the U.S. Many of these roads are also used by pedestrians and cyclists. In addition, little to no signage, few traffic regulations, and very little enforcement of those laws are further compounded by poor emergency response capabilities.
Be Prepared for Safe Driving in a Foreign Land
Driver unfamiliarity – unfamiliar cars driving on unfamiliar roads with unfamiliar signs – is a big contributor to car crashes abroad. Yet, many tourists prefer to drive on their trips abroad.
If you’ve decided you will drive on your next trip, start preparing before you leave home:
- Research the driving laws where you’re going (go online, speak with friends, etc.)
- Get an International Driver’s Permit, but take your U.S. license with you too
- Research your automobile insurance options and have the right coverage
- Know the local numbers to contact the police (hint: it’s not 911)
Your auto policy back home plus your credit card benefits may be enough coverage, but check the details carefully. Many auto policies don’t cover driving overseas or even renting a car abroad, and there are significant limitations to the car rental collision coverage you get with your credit card travel protection.
At the Scene of a Car Crash
If you’re involved in a car crash abroad, it’s important to understand that the training and availability of emergency responders may be well below typical U.S. standards. That means, you could be waiting for help for a rather long time.
The rules at the scene of an accident are similar in a foreign country:
- If you’re able, contact the local authorities immediately. You may have to request an English-speaking representative.
- If anyone is injured, tell the operators you’ll need emergency medical assistance.
- Take down information – driver’s names, the make and model and color of each of the vehicles involved, the address where the collision occurred, and registration plate information.
- Take pictures of the accident scene using your phone and/or camera.
- If you have travel insurance or car rental insurance, contact the insurance company as soon as possible. Depending on your coverage, they may be able to help you with getting through to the authorities, sending emergency medical support, and even a tow truck.
- In many regions, you’ll be asked to fill out and sign a statement – get a copy of that.
Provided you did your insurance homework, you’ll know whether you have to wait to return home to file a claim or do it immediately.
Know Your Coverage Limits and Limitations
Neither your credit card coverage or your coverage from back home are complete coverage if you’re in an accident overseas, and the coverage you get with travel insurance has its own set of restrictions, like only covering cars up to a certain value.
In addition, there are country-specific limitations you should look for, such as some countries requiring the driver to have adequate auto insurance. In some countries, you’ll be required to purchase coverage from providers based in that country. That means your credit card coverage, your auto policy back home, and your travel insurance coverage are useless to you there.
See our review of car rental collision coverage for the full details.