We often neglect how often we are in a car during our travels. Consequently we don’t pay enough attention to planning around our automobile use, plopping ourselves down in a car and expecting the vehicle, traffic, and pedestrians to act the same all over the world.

Most people spending days fretting over a flight across the Atlantic, but neglect to avoid these basic driving mistakes. Cars are the most dangerous form of travel and getting ready for foreign roads may save your life.

  • Not Doing Some Google Hacking – A simple search like “driving in ________” can help you to get a general idea of the driving conditions in the city you’re visiting (ViaMichelin is another great resource). Places generally fall into one of two categories, either they strictly follow the rules (think Western Europe) or it’s utter coordinated chaos (as in India).
  • Staying In The Left Lane (or right for the UK and former British colonies) – You’re likely to get lost or have to make sudden turns onto streets which won’t be easy if there is a car blocking your path. Staying in the right lane also gives you a better view of most exits and make it easier for you to detour around unexpected traffic or construction.

  • Not Learning the Basic Laws – Turning on red in New York is illegal, and so is not stopping at a crosswalk in Switzerland. Don’t risk getting a ticket, having your license taken away, or being arrested for following your own laws everywhere you go. Excited about driving at warp 6 on the autobahn? Keep in mind that there are speed limits even there and they change on various sections of the road.
  • Neglecting the Signs – This goes with learning the basic driving laws. Getting lost or missing an exit or even just thinking we did puts us on edge causing rash decisions, speeding, and sharp lane changes, all of which can lead to an accident. Be especially aware of one ways, stop signs, and crosswalks.
  • Not Maintaining Your Distance (and Trying To Never Get Cut Off) – Swallow your pride and let people get in front of you. Many drivers around the world may follow closer than you’re accustomed to, but you should always keep a full car length’s distance when stopped and two while driving. Simply accept that people are going to get in front of you but don’t try to close the gap too tight. Fender benders can be expensive, lead to fraud, and fatal.
  • When stopped leave enough room to be able to turn around the car in front of you in case it breaks down, stalls out, or the driver refuses to move.
  • Expecting Signals – Don’t doubt that a car a few inches ahead of you in the next lane won’t dart in front of you at a moment’s notice if your don’t see a flashing turn signal.
  • Assuming Pedestrians Are Going To Be Passive – It’s likely that you’ll be faced with more people walking around, many of whom will want to cross the street. (US drivers aren’t really faced with pushy pedestrians). No matter what color the traffic signal is, always look for someone trying to make it across first and don’t doze off during a long red light. Hitting a car is bad, hitting a person is worse.
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If you know you’ll have to rent a car or drive in Europe, make sure to learn to drive a manual transmission before you go. Many place don’t offer automatics; if you don’t know how to drive a stick and must get a vehicle, look for a Smart Car (they all have the same standard automatic/steptronic transmission).

Finally, don’t take traffic lines too seriously and go slow or pull over if you can’t devote 100% of your attention to the road. Traveling to Africa? Newsweek has some good driving tips for the sub-Sahara.