Well-planned family trips to other countries are “surprisingly” safe and healthy, say surveys by travel medicine professionals. If problems do occur, they are more likely to be due to accidents rather than illnesses – even though there is far more information available on keeping kids healthy than on preventing accidents. The leading category of accidents is motor vehicle-related, followed by waterfront-related and falls. This posting deals with motor vehicles. Future postings will deal with the other two.
1. A comparison of the risk of motor vehicle-related deaths per 10,000 vehicles per year in representative countries. (Source: World Health Organization.)
|UK||3||Russia||19||Note that these figures are meaningful only in comparing countries. Especially in poor countries, the risk for visitors is far less than for local people. Visitors generally have access to safer transportation than do locals.|
2. Don’t drive immediately after long flights through multiple time zones. Jetlag, fatigue and lack of sleep interfere with cognitive thinking and reaction times, which are especially essential for driving on unfamiliar roads. Cranky, jetlagged children further worsen the mix. (Even at home misbehaving children are responsible for numerous accidents.)
3. Consider leaving the driving to others. Reputable local drivers can deal better with language issues, local driving customs and road conditions. Rules regarding passing, signaling and headlight use vary from country to country. Make clear to your drivers that you are in no hurry. Request safe routes rather than the fastest ones. Check vehicles for safety features for young children. Take bus tours only with reputable travel agencies.
4. Know local regulations regarding children. Rules vary from country to country. In many European countries it is mandatory to have a reflective vest for each child (and, sometimes, for adults). The vests must be worn in emergencies (if children have to stand at the side of the road, for example). Most countries have laws regulating by age, height and weight the use of baby restraints, where children may sit, the type of seatbelts that are permissible, and when airbags must be deactivated if a child sits by one. Note that height and weight measurements may be stated in centimeters and kilograms.
5. Familiarize yourself with local road conditions. In poor countries, most roads are badly designed, not properly maintained or patrolled, and have few traffic signs. Many drivers lack basic driving skills. Law enforcement is lax. Emergency medical services are inferior or nonexistent. There are ever more cars without road improvements. Driving at night is especially hazardous; some drivers turn off headlights to save fuel.
6. Don’t underestimate the hazards of driving on the “wrong” (opposite) side of the road. Problems arise when you enter a street/highway, make turns or pass other vehicles. Traffic circles (“roundabouts”), common in Britain, can be disorienting. Generally roundabouts have no signal lights, traffic moves counter clockwise, and you exit the traffic circle on the left side of the road. Avoiding errors takes total concentration.
7. Rent cars from well-known international companies. If possible, do so before leaving home.Such car rentals are more likely to have well maintained cars, provide you with the necessary documents, and supply information on what to do in case of breakdowns. Check if they have appropriate children’s restraints available or if you must bring your own. Generally, larger cars are safer but are difficult to maneuver on narrow roads.
8. Quaint local transportation may be hazardous. Riding three-wheel taxis, small open vans, pedicabs and other inexpensive, colorful local vehicles make for memorable family photos but are generally unsafe. They dart around cars and trucks and expose your family to toxic fumes from other vehicles. You must hold small children on your lap – which is dangerous if the vehicle tips over (not a rare occurrence) or is involved in a collision.
9. Think twice before allowing teenagers to use motorized bicycles, scooters and mopeds. These take practice to operate, especially on overcrowded roads. Helmets may not be available. In Bermuda, where motorized bikes are popular, visitors sustain far higher rates of injuries than locals. Mishaps occur even at low speeds. Check lower age limits for teenagers to ride such vehicles.
10. Children who cross streets safely at home may need help overseas.Crossing streets that may have no crosswalks, traffic moving on the opposite side of the road, motorbikes to dodge, and drivers who may disobey traffic signals requires consciously rethinking of well-ingrained (“kneejerk”) reactions.