After heart attacks, the most common cause of death in Americans traveling abroad is accidents. And the most common type of accident is one related to motor vehicles. In fact, driving on roads overseas is so dangerous that there is now an organization specifically dedicated to improving one's odds of surviving on roads in other countries.
There is a lot about foreign road travel that will be beyond your control. Road conditions may be abysmal. Drivers may be careless and poorly trained. Vehicles may be poorly equipped and maintained.
And yet there is much that you can do to protect yourself. People traveling abroad, especially on vacation, tend to take risks that they would not take at home. Simple precautions, however, can make all the difference between a great trip or a ruined vacation. Or a ruined life. If you MUST ride a motorcycle or moped, then first get some instruction in its use. And use a helmet. (This goes for bicycles, too.) In cars and taxis, look for seatbelts and use them. Whenever there is a choice, pick a larger car, in good condition, with an experienced and capable driver.
Individual circumstances will vary, but most of the time it is better to let someone else do the driving. Road conditions, traffic patterns, rules of the road and so forth are much more familiar to a local driver than they will be to you. If you do choose to drive yourself, pick your vehicle carefully and become thoroughly familiar with it before you leave the parking lot. Check carefully to see that you are properly licensed and insured. Acquaint yourself with local traffic laws and traffic patterns before venturing out on the road. Try by all means to avoid driving in a hurry, at night and on unfamiliar roads. And never drive while tired or intoxicated.
Pedestrian accidents are common, too, often due to unfamiliarity with traffic rules and patterns. "Look BOTH ways" is a valid instruction anywhere in the world.
Another dangerous place is the beach or swimming pool. Too much sun, too much alcohol and too much water are a dangerous combination. Swimming rules abroad are the same as they are at home--Don't swim alone. Don't swim in unfamiliar waters. Don't swim after dark. Don't dive into unfamiliar water. Also, don't swim in rough seas. Usually it is best not to swim in lakes and rivers, either, as they often harbor a host of diseases regardless how clean they may look. Restrict swimming to the ocean or chlorinated pools. (See our article on swimming and diving.)
Accident prevention during pregnancy assumes some added burdens. Especially late in pregnancy, falls become more common. Fatigue, loss of balance and loose ligaments in the joints all contribute to this.
So for accident prevention abroad, the same rules apply at home. Be alert. Be reasonable. And think before you act. What IS different abroad is that if you DON'T follow these rules, help may be a lot harder to find.
Finally, remember the old adage that the most dangerous part of your journey is the trip to and from the airport. Hurry and distraction on the way to the plane, and fatigue on the way home all add to the dangers inherent in road travel. Allow plenty of time. Don’t telephone, eat and drive at the same time. Use reliable transportation. And when possible, leave the driving to someone else.