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Monday, November 30, 2009

Safest on the Plane, Not on the Ground

I’ve often pointed out the irony involved that the most dangerous part of a plane trip is the drive to the airport. Although I did quit mentioning that to my parents after they had an auto accident after seeing us off at the airport.
As we travel the world, or even to town for groceries, the most dangerous thing we do is hop in a car. In Israel, more people die in auto accidents, than terrorist bombings.
Whether it’s left side driving, pedestrian dangers or confusing kilometers with miles, it’s good to be familiar with the road culture of the land you drive. If you live in the US, everything is pretty standardized as far as signage, road marking and laws. Even if you stay on North America, you could find yourself challenged with a flashing green light or making a left turn from the right lane.
There’s an organization called the Association for Safe International Road Travel that tracks the safety of roads around the world. ASIRT was founded in 1995 after 22 passengers were killed in a bus crash in Turkey. That appears to be the tip of the iceberg in driving issues. Bad roads are often the problem, but so is local driver’s ignorance of traffic laws and stop lights. Poorly maintained and dangerous busses mixed with narrow mountain roads and no guardrails sound like an opening for a scary movie, rather than busy highway overseas. In his book, Don't Go There!, Peter Greenberg describes roads in rural Russia that are unmarked, un-maintained, unfinished and suddenly ending at the edge of a cliff.

In November 2009, Michael R. Bloomberg announced some good news for ASIRT. Bloomberg has donated $125-million to six organizations, including ASIRT to help reduce road deaths and injuries around the world.

The US State Department says it’s not just ground transportation that can get you in trouble. Kidnapping and assault can be a problem. The convenience of ATMs has added a new trick for the crooked. You get kidnapped, taken to an ATM, forced to take out the daily maximum withdrawal, then held till midnight, so you can get the next day’s maximum cash, then you are dumped somewhere.

The State Department has some excellent travel information on their website, including these tips to avoid kidnapping and assault.
  • Always be aware of your surroundings and be alert for possible surveillance upon leaving or returning to your vehicle, home, or office.
  • 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 should you need immediate assistance.
  • Avoid trips to remote areas, particularly after dark.
  • Select well-traveled streets as much as possible.
  • Keep vehicles well-maintained at all times to avoid breakdowns.
  • When driving, remember to keep automobile doors locked and windows rolled up (if possible).
  • Be constantly alert to road conditions and surroundings.
  • Never pick up hitchhikers.
  • Carry a 3 x 5 card printed with important phrases in the local language.
  • Report all suspicious activity to the company or embassy security contact, if applicable.

ASIRT also sells Road Travel Reports on their website at asirt.org. A Road Travel Report on Canada would probably tell you the flashing green light means a pedestrian controlled intersection in British Columbia or right‑of‑way to turn left in Ontario and Quebec.

Be careful out there!

US State Dept Travel Tips
Driving in Europe 101
Don't Go There!
Americas Overland - The Driving Handbook
A Drive on the Wild Side: Twenty extreme driving adventures from around the world
Survival Driving: Staying Alive on the World's Most Dangerous Roads