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Dangers of driving in a foreign country

At least five Singaporeans have lost their lives in road accidents while on holiday in New Zealand (above), Australia and Malaysia this year. Last year, there were at least three such deaths in the US and Malaysia. (ST PHOTO: DESMOND LIM)

Publication Date : 20-06-2012


Two accidents within a week involving Singaporeans driving overseas - this has highlighted the challenges of driving on foreign roads.

Fatigue during long, monotonous drives, unfamiliar roads and harsh weather conditions make navigating foreign roads tricky for Singaporeans who are used to short bouts of driving.

This year alone, at least five Singaporeans have lost their lives in road accidents while on holiday in New Zealand, Australia and Malaysia. Last year, there were at least three such deaths in the United States and Malaysia.

In the latest incident on Monday, a nine-year-old boy was killed when his family's white van veered off the road and slammed into a tree in Australia. Police said the driver might have nodded off before losing control of the van.

Three days before that, a couple on their honeymoon, Mohamed Najibullah Suhaimi, 26, and Raihana Mohd Rashid, 25, died in a two-car crash in Auckland, New Zealand.

Fatigue during long drives is one of the main reasons Singaporeans get into accidents while driving overseas, said travel agencies, car rental companies and road safety experts.

Because Singaporean drivers are not used to driving long distances, they neglect to have enough rest before a long drive, the experts said.

"In Singapore, the longest drive you can have is from Jurong to Changi, but in countries like Australia, that is nothing," said Chris Ng, who runs Footworks Media, an agency that has been organising driving holidays for 12 years.

On these long drives, people are also more likely to speed, said Mark Chow, a senior manager at the Singapore Road Safety Council secretariat.

That some roads overseas do not have sufficient lighting at night - compared with Singapore's brightly lit expressways - only makes the drive more dangerous, he said.

In some locations in Australia, New Zealand and the US, for example, there are several long stretches of road where road lamps are absent, he added.

In some countries such as Thailand, the occasional pothole can also pose risks to drivers not used to them on the road.

Then, there are seasonal changes - strong winds, snow, ice - that result in road conditions unfamiliar to Singaporeans.

Gusty winds in Malaysia and New Zealand, for example, have been known to force cars off roads or into adjacent lanes.

Rufus Tan from travel agency Quotient TravelPlanner said that driving in these conditions requires a certain level of defensive driving skills, which most Singaporeans drivers do not possess.

He said that when organising trips to places that snow, for example, he makes sure to arrange for snow tyres or snow chains for his customers.

The Automobile Association of Singapore organises safety briefings and courses for the 300 or so people who join its driving holidays yearly.

In these talks, participants are taught about what it is like to drive in overseas locations. Drivers are briefed about the driving culture of a place so that they are prepared, for example, if the locals do not generally follow traffic rules.

Drivers need to remember they are not driving in Singapore, said Lo Li Wen, commercial director of car rental company Hertz Asia.

"When driving out of our comfort zones... we need to keep reminding ourselves that we need to be extra prudent."

Experience also counts. Ng said that when overseas, Singaporeans should choose cars they know how to handle. "If in Singapore, you drive a Toyota Corolla sedan, don't go there and rent a camper van," he said.


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