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SAFETI Online Newsletter

Volume 1, Number 1, Fall 1999 - Winter 2000

Association for Safe International Road Travel

by Rochelle Sobel, Executive Director

It is May 3rd, 1999 on a rainy, sunless day. A large bus filled with passengers is speeding carelessly down the Bodrum-Izmir Highway near Lake Bafa in Turkey. For some, this is a routine commute home. For others, it is the culmination of a long planned and rewarding vacation. For still others, it is an opportunity to learn first hand about the history and beauty of another culture. Among the passengers are people of all ages and nationalities, students, a bride and groom, sons and daughters, parents and grandparents.

Within minutes after the bus pulls away from the station, many passengers begin to squirm in their seats uncomfortably. The road is slippery and winding. The passengers urge the driver to slow down. He ignores them. The bus sways as the driver persists relentlessly and indifferently on his route. The passengers' anxiety increases as the driver exits a tunnel and approaches the narrow Milas-Soke road with its sharp curve. The driver is on the wrong side of the road. He loses control of the bus and hits an oncoming car. The bus careens recklessly and plunges into a deep ravine, landing on its side.

Twenty-three people from all over the world are killed. Among the dead is my twenty-five year old son, Aron, a University of Maryland Medical School student. Aron had fulfilled his final rotation requirement in a hospital abroad and had chosen to tour Turkey for several days before coming home to graduate.

Students, like Aron, who are about to travel abroad are generally concerned about water, food, disease and street crime. They are advised to purify water, receive immunizations, avoid fresh fruits and vegetables, not travel alone by night in high crime areas and avoid wearing or carrying expensive items that may attract attention. While all of this is excellent advice, it does not protect them from the single greatest threat to their safety while traveling in many foreign countries. THE SINGLE GREATEST CAUSE OF DEATH AND SERIOUS INJURY TO TRAVELERS UNDER THIRTY-FIVE AND HEALTHY TRAVELERS OF ANY AGE IS ROAD TRAFFIC ACCIDENTS. Road accidents abroad kill and injure far more Americans than disease, violence or terrorism.

Students are traveling in increasing numbers to developing countries in which the chance of being killed on the road is between 20 to 80 times greater than in the United States. Road accidents in these countries are growing at an alarming rate. THE GLOBAL BURDEN OF DISEASE, a recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health in conjunction with The World Bank and the World Health Organization, projects that road accidents will soon become the third leading health burden world-wide.

Students travel to countries unaware that they will be exposed to narrow, winding deteriorated roads, hairpin curves with no guardrails, poor or no lighting or traffic signals, animal drawn traffic sharing roads with motorized vehicles and animals crossing the road unexpectedly. In some countries, speeding, aggressive driving, disregard for traffic laws and pedestrian safety, driving while intoxicated, and failure to use headlights at night pose serious risks. Bus, trucks, mini-buses and vans may be poorly maintained and overcrowded or overloaded. Bus drivers may have received little or no driver training.

It is important that students are alerted to road rules, driver behaviors, road conditions, pedestrian crossing conventions and advisability of night travel before setting off for the country of their destination.

The Association for Safe International Road Travel (ASIRT) was founded in response to Aron's death. ASIRT's mission is to promote international road safety through education, advocacy and public awareness. ASIRT provides students with detailed Road Travel Reports on over one-hundred countries throughout the world.

For additional information, please contact ASIRT:
Tel.: (301) 983-5252
Fax: (301) 983-3663


Tips for Safe International Road Travel

  • Choose the safest form of transportation in each country.
  • Avoid night travel in countries with poor safety records and/or mountainous terrain.

As a pedestrian:

  • be aware of traffic patterns
  • be alert to driver behavior which jeopardizes pedestrian safety

When renting a car:

  • insist that the vehicle be equipped with safety features, such as seat belts, shoulder lap belts, and daytime running lights
  • check tires
  • ask about latest inspection of brakes and headlights
  • obtain information regarding roadway and traffic patterns
  • learn highway hazards and driving conventions specific to the country in which you are traveling
  • Avoid motorcycle travel whenever possible
  • If you choose motorcycle travel, insist that you be provided with a helmet if you do not bring one with you

When traveling by bus:

  • avoid overcrowded buses and minivans
  • be alert for reckless driving
  • insist that the driver be responsible or disembark at the next stop
  • report reckless driving to ASIRT, to the bus company and register a complaint with the American Embassy
  • follow local tourist bureaus' advice to travel by night only in countries with good safety records
  • If possible, obtain the name of a competent physician and medical facility in the country that you are visiting