VACATION IDEAS: ROAD TRIPS

5 Unusually Dangerous—and 5 Especially Safe—Places to Drive

Thinking about hitting the road on your next vacation? Be careful out there. Not every country (or state) has the same safety standards that you may be used to. We spanned the globe and found five places where you might want to stay off the streets—and five places that are exceptionally safe.

India
Roads with the most chaos—and the most cows
Notorious for its chaotic traffic, India might well be the most terrifying place to drive. Gargantuan traffic jams, six cars crammed into the three lanes, and a complete disregard for traffic signs and markings: These are just a few of the travel hazards you'll face on India's city streets. The noise of car horns is deafening as streets seethe with cars, cows, mopeds, bikes, and pedestrians. Outside the cities, ancient, precariously held-together vehicles hurtle along poorly maintained roads at breakneck speed. Drivers often leave car lights off at night when driving poorly or unlit streets and sometimes shut off engines completely when going down hills. If you have to drive in India—it's an experience you'll never forget.

5 Especially Safe Places to Drive

Canada
First choice for first-time driving outside the U.S.
An ideal choice for first-time driving outside the U.S., our neighbor to the north drives on the same side of the road as we do and road signage is in English in 12 of Canada's 13 provinces and territories. The exception to this is the staunchly French-speaking province of Quebec, where other than some bilingual signs in Montreal, road signs are exclusively in French. Canada's roads are safer than south of the border, with a 8.8 in 100,000 chance of being killed on the roads, compared with the U.S., where odds are 14 in 100,000. Just remember that road signs are in kilometers, not miles.

Norway
One of the lowest rates of traffic fatalities in the world
With one of the lowest rates of traffic fatalities in the world, Norway is another excellent driving destination. Factors responsible for the Nordic nation's stellar safety record include very strict rules about mobile phone use, keeping headlights on at all times, safety gear you must have in your car, and even the types of tires you must use. At 0.02 percent, Norway's is also one of the lowest blood alcohol limits, although the low figure doesn't concern all that many Norwegians. One survey found that 91 percent of Norwegians wouldn't drink any alcohol at all if driving.

Germany
Life in the fast lane
If you think driving in Germany involves careening along hair-raising (or exhilarating, depending on your attitude) 20-lane, speed-limit-free autobahns, think again. In fact, a third of the autobahn has speed limits—some as low as 37 mph—and many look much like four-lane highways back home. Almost 2,000 miles of the nearly 8,000-mile autobahn network has "dynamic speed limits," adjusted to match traffic and weather conditions. Whether you're in a section with a speed limit or not, Germany keeps roads safe with strict rules, including stringent vehicle inspections, obligatory third-party liability coverage, and a point system that keeps dangerous drivers off the road. All cars must carry specific safety and first-aid equipment, and switch to snow tires in winter—or face steep penalties. Once you've got all that in place, driving in Germany is a pleasure; roads are impeccably maintained using high-tech road scanners, and feature landscaped medians, long acceleration and deceleration lanes, gentle curves, and freeze-resistant surfaces. You might just want to slow down to enjoy the drive.

Italy
Working to become one of Europe's safest places to get behind the wheel
Given myriad movie images of chaotic, narrow, twisting Vespa-crammed Italian streets, it might be a surprise to see Italy listed as a safe place to drive. But Italy has successfully put the brakes on the once-soaring road accident and fatality statistics that even provoked Pope Benedict to issue "Ten Commandments" for safer driving. Now, Italy has raced from a position as one of Europe's more dangerous places to be on the road (or sidewalk) to one of its safer options. New laws introduced heftier fines for driving with blood-alcohol levels of 0.05 percent or for being on the road without a reflective safety vest in your car. Now, convicted drug users have their licenses revoked if they are caught driving under the influence of drugs. Whether it's the new traffic laws or the might of the Pope's car commandments, deaths on Italian roads have decreased 43.7 percent in the last decade.

Panama
Some of Latin America's safest roads
With 1,000 miles of coastline, 1,500 islands, and 954 bird species, you're going to want to drive to see this stunning country of 2.8 million. It has a land area smaller than South Carolina, so you can easily drive to a slew of scenic spots; the canal is just 20 minutes from Panama City, while the rain forest is a 45-minute drive, and Pacific Coast beaches are only 90 minutes away. With the exception of gridlocked Panama City, Panama has some of Latin America's best roads. The modern, four-lane Pan-American Highway crosses the western side of Panama, from the capital to the second-largest city, Colón, with a plethora of gas stations and eateries en route. Once you veer off the major highways, however, roads are not always well maintained. That said, there was a 47 percent decrease in road accidents between 2010 and 2011 according to the National Department of Transit, and continuing efforts are underway to improve roads, plus plans to install helpful road signage toward sites of interest to visitors.

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Note:This story was accurate when it was published. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.
 

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