The Foreign and Commonwealth Office's "60 minute warning" for British drivers abroad

You've picked up the hire car, spotted the airport exit, and are raring to go... but watch out – danger may be lurking for the millions of us who drive abroad each year.

The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO), have teamed up with Prof Geoff Beattie of Manchester Uni, to look at the factors responsible for dangerous driving abroad, and created a nifty formula showing that driving abroad is most lethal just 60 mins into the first journey abroad (1).

What it boils down to is that we're 1½ times as likely to have a bad accident when travelling abroad at 100-110 km/h as locals, because we're just not used to driving at such speed (2) - (HS).  Added to this, we're also twice as likely to have a serious accident as the locals because we're often worn out from travelling (3) - (DF).

Somewhat scarily, we're also 4½ times as likely as local drivers to have a collision, simply because we forget to drive on the other side of the road (4) - (CS).  To compound the problem, we're twice as likely to be involved in an accident when renting a car (as we're used to driving on the other side of the road), but this is six times as high if hiring mopeds or motorbikes - (RV).  And finally, we're 2½ times more likely to be involved in accidents than in the UK due to having to perform manoeuvres in the opposite way we're used to - (FA).

But don't hang up your car keys or leave your driving license at home just yet!  The FCO isn't saying don't drive abroad, just that it's a good idea to prepare before you do. To help, we've got some top tips to follow before driving abroad:

  • Check the driving laws of where you're going – including local speed limits. In South Africa, for example, four-way-stops (a junction, with a stop sign at every entrance) are common.  The first vehicle to arrive has priority, whether they are going straight on, or turning right or left - a very different approach than we take to roundabouts in the UK!
  • Check with your car insurance company that you're fully covered to drive abroad including breakdown recovery and any medical expenses if you're in an accident.  If you're involved in an accident, contact your insurer immediately and take plenty of pics of any damage to your vehicle.
  • Drive defensively and expect the unexpected – the local driving style may be different to that of the UK.
  • Don't drink and drive – the alcohol limit may be lower than in the UK and in some countries there is zero tolerance for drink driving.
  • If you do decide to hire a motorcycle or scooter, make sure you use a reputable hire company – check that they are licensed to hire bikes to tourists, and always wear a helmet and protective clothing, whether you're the driver or a passenger.
  • Visit for more info before you hop in a vehicle abroad.
  • Lastly, make sure you have a holiday to remember for all the right reasons and enjoy your driving experience in a different country!

(1) '60% of drivers become tired within the first hour of driving, during which 60% of fatal fatigue-related accidents occur' (Yung-Chung Liu & Tsun-Ju Wu, 2009)
(2) Wilks, Watson and Hansen, 2000
(3) Wilks, Watson and Hansen, 2000
(4) Wilks, Watson and Hansen, 2000