Using a seatbelt to drive safe overseas.

Employees who travel internationally as part of their work often have learn new laws, customs, and signage for safe driving abroad. Driving is something we do every day, but it’s also risky. According to the Association for Safe International Road travel, nearly 1.3 million people around the world die in motor vehicle accidents each year, and another 20 to 50 million are injured or disabled.

Driving should always be taken seriously, but driving on roads you’re not familiar with brings on a different kind of stress. If your work brings you to a foreign country, that means adjusting to different driving laws, and sometimes, it even involves driving on the other side of the road than what you’re used to.

Accidents also are costly, leading to increases in the cost of health and disability insurance. That’s why it’s important to emphasize the importance of safe driving to your employees and make them aware of the challenges they face when driving abroad.

Safe Driving: International Road Rules

Before driving in a different country, do a little research. Look into such factors as which side of the road people drive on; whether right turns are allowed on red lights; laws regarding seat belts (though seat belts should be worn by everyone in the car even when not legally required); laws regarding cell phone use; and rules on where kids have to sit.

Here are some 4 simple tips for safe driving abroad:

1. Plan your route. With GPS, it’s easier than ever to look over your route before driving, but having a map is still a good idea. Looking over the map will give you a good idea of alternate routes to take if traffic is bad, or a road is shut down. Plus, a map is vital if you find yourself driving somewhere with bad cell phone service.

2. Learn about roundabouts. Many European countries feature roundabouts, which are similar to traffic circles, but it can be a big adjustment for people who have never driven in one before. Be calm, and as a general rule, drive around a roundabout completely once before exiting. Remember that if you miss your exit, all you have to do is continue in the circle until you approach it again.

3. Drive defensively. This is always a good rule, but it’s particularly helpful when driving somewhere you’re not familiar with. Observe all speed limits, and allow people to pass you. If pedestrians are crossing the street, politely stop for them, even if it means you have to stop at a green light. Follow the rules of the road regardless of what you see other drivers doing.

4. Consider a taxi. If available, a taxi service might be your best option under certain conditions. If you’re running late to an appointment, you don’t need the stress of making your way while driving unfamiliar roads. Other times to consider a taxi is during inclement weather or if there’s a lot of traffic and parking will be scarce.

Set the Standard for Safe Driving

A helpful step is to establish guidelines for employees who drive while working. The United States Department of Labor, through OSHA, offers recommendations in regards to a safe driving program. Five simple steps for employers to take include:

1. Written policies and procedures to take in the event of an accident: These can include requiring the wearing of seatbelts and reminders about the dangers of using a cell phone, especially texting, while driving. Employees who drive as part of their jobs should sign the agreement, and it should be posted in the workplace and in the human resources section of your intranet and employee handbook.

Check the driving records of employees whose jobs require driving. Screen out drivers with poor records. Establish how many incidents and violations an employee can have before losing their privilege of driving as part of their work.

2. Develop a Communication Plan: Share news and information about safety milestones (like announcing it’s been a year since the company had an accident), and tips about safe driving. 

3. Don’t Forget Seat Belts: Wearing a seatbelt remains one of the simplest and most effective safety measures you can take while driving. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, wearing a seatbelt reduces fatalities in serious crashes by about 50% for front seat occupants and 75% for rear seat occupants. It adds that airbags are effective, but are not a replacement for seatbelts.

Wearing a seatbelt and driving a car with an airbag offers the best protection for adults. Wearing a seatbelt also significantly reduces serious injuries in car crashes. If that isn’t enough, seat belt usage is mandatory in most countries, with front- and back-seat belt usage usually required.

4. Adjust Your Driving Based on Road Conditions: Driving the same on every road isn’t an option. First, there are factors such as speed limits, traffic lights and levels of pedestrian traffic. Beyond that, employees driving overseas are likely to be driving in areas, and on roads, they are unfamiliar with, so extra precaution should be taken. Employees should also plan their route and adjust their departure time and journey duration based on these factors when they are behind the wheel such as road conditions, traffic behavior, traffic density, weather, and the safety features of the vehicle they are driving.

5. Provide Emergency Support: When driving around the area they live in, most people have relatives, friends, a mechanic or a service such as AAA to call if they get into an accident or their car breaks down. That’s not always the case when driving abroad, so it’s wise to take some extra precautions. When you have employees driving overseas, make sure they have international coverage for emergency support. Educate your employees about emergencies and provide them with a contact from your company.

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