When possible its best to avoid self driving overseas, especially in developing world countries.  For one thing you are very exposed if you get into an accident — there is a risk both from local authorities and also from any crowd that may gather.  Generally in the developing world driving practices are much more erratic than what most of us are accustomed to.  That combined with an oopsy-daisy attitude to life and death and fundamental safety matters in many places make traveling by vehicle in general and self-driving in particular a significant vulnerability.

In some cases however it may be unavoidable or impractical especially for expatriates or those on long term temporary assignments who must maintain a level of mobility and independence. Even in these cases if you re located outside of Europe or some of the more developed Asian or Latin American countries its probably best to employ a reliable local driver. If you can’t or won’t you should at least review the following considerations (these can also be useful teaching points to train a local driver as well):

  • Consider getting some formal driving training in both accident avoidance and evasive driving. You may need to do this prior to deployment as options for this type of training may be limited or nonexistent where you are going.
  • Conduct a map reconnaissance and a route analysis prior to driving in a unfamiliar area.
  • Bring an international drivers permit even if its not required in the country where you are driving. This may be helpful if stopped by local authorities.
  • Always ensure that your vehicle is in good working condition. This seems like common sense but situations that can be annoying in your home country can be life threatening in more high-risk locations.
  • Make sure you maintain your fuel tank at half or higher. This is especially true in areas where fuel may be scarce or where fuel stations may have very long queues.
    Know your recommended tire pressure and check it regularly.
  • Make sure you have a serviceable spare tire in your vehicle along with the appropriate tools and know how to change it.
  • Always strive to allow maneuver room between your vehicle and the vehicle in front of you when stopped in traffic. You should be able to see the bottom of the tires of the car in front of you.
  • When parking you should back into the space whenever possible. This will allow you a better field of vision and the ability to depart more rapidly.
    In high threat environments you should avoid leaving your vehicle parked unattended in a public location. If it must be left unattended the vehicle should be searched prior to entering it and departing.
  • When traveling in heavy traffic you should be especially aware of what is going on around you both for purposes of accident avoidance and also because of the vulnerability to criminals who prey on motorists stuck in traffic.
  • Consider practicing driving in reverse. In many instances fancy evasive maneuvers may not be applicable even if you know how to employ them. Sometimes if you detect a problem up ahead the best solution is to reverse until you can safely turn the car and get out of the area.

If you get involved in an accident in may be prudent to leave the area and go to a safe haven like a police station (in some locations this may not be that safe a haven) to report the incident.  Most of us are conditioned as drivers not to leave the scene of an accident but it may not be safe to remain in some locations.  A crowd will likely form and you as the foreigner will likely be seen as being at fault whether you were or not.  Vigilante “justice” and lynchings are common in many parts of the world and local authorities may be powerless to intervene or may willfully turn a blind eye.

Use caution when approaching roadblocks and make an assessment as soon as possible.  This is a topic that will be discussed in greater depth separately but suffice to say if you are living or traveling somewhere were roadblocks erected by police, military, paramilitary groups or others you should become familiar with the procedures and routine for safe passage and recognize that approaching and passing through a roadblock can be a potentially dangerous situation.

Vehicular travel in the developing world presents some risks – both related to safety and security – especially if you are driving yourself.

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