Did you know that nearly half of all medical evacuations back to the States are the result of car crashes? That every year, 1.3 million people are killed, and between 20 to 50 million are injured, in motor vehicle accidents? That most of these injuries happen in low- and middle-income countries? That 25,000 of the deaths are among tourists and travelers? That a medical evacuation can cost up to $100,000 or even more?
When making your travel plans, or sending your kids off to Europe or South America for a few weeks, we know you’ve taken care of all the important exams and shots, meds and sunscreen and mobile phone arrangements. We know, too, that you’ve organized your funds and packed and planned for all sorts of emergencies and contingencies, except, perhaps, for one rather consequent (and far too common) occurrence: a car crash while you’re on vacation.
The fast-developing world is exciting and extraordinary and more and more of us are visiting far-off and exotic places every year. At the same time, more and more people in these countries are driving cars and riding motorcycles. Traffic laws are not universal, nor are they necessarily logical, enforceable or consistently obeyed. Road maintenance and safety is not the priority it is here in the States in many other parts of the world. This means that a crash in the developing country is much more likely to be fatal. Adequate emergency care may simply not be available. It can take many hours to get to a facility that provides appropriate care. And this care, while well-intended, is very likely not up to US expectations or standards.
And think about the last time you were on holiday. Sometimes on vacation we take risks we would never take at home. We may even drink and drive. So how well did you understand all the local traffic regulations on that island paradise you visited last spring? Were you absolutely sure you understood all the signs and signals? Did they drive to the right or to the left? Were you driving a rental car or using a motorcycle or scooter? Were you really comfortable behind the wheel? Were you 100 percent sure you knew how to operate the vehicle safely amidst all the distractions?
Without ruining a good time, there are some things you can do to reduce your risk of being injured in a car or motor vehicle crash while enjoying a vacation – really!
- You know this one: always, always, always wear a seatbelt.
- Put children in car seats. Every time. Really.
- Whenever possible, avoid traveling by car in a developing country at night.
- Do not ride motorcycles unless you are an expert.
- If you must ride a motorcycle, wear a helmet. One that fits, by the way.
- Take the time to acquaint yourself with the local traffic laws before you get behind the wheel.
- DO NOT DRINK AND DRIVE. AND YES, THAT COCKTAIL AT LUNCH 2 HOURS AGO COUNTS!
- Ride only in clearly marked taxis that have seat belts.
- Stay away from overcrowded, overloaded or top-heavy buses or vans. You may well be seeking an authentic experience, but this is not the place to find one.
- Be extra alert when crossing any street or roadway, most especially in countries where they drive on the left.
Special thanks cdc.gov/International RoadSafety.