Driving in a foreign country is generally hair-raising. If you’re lucky, you’ll be on the side of the road you’re used to – driving on the opposite side can be particularly perplexing. There are other factors, too. To non-Europeans, cities in Europe can seem like a never ending series of traffic circles or roundabouts, with perpetual one-way streets taking you nowhere. Large cities anywhere, particularly in North America, seem to be flanked on all sides by highways with too many lanes. Road hazards vary from place to place, with pedestrians taking more liberties crossing busy roads in some cities than others, and livestock, chickens and dogs causing hazards on the roads in the Caribbean or in small, rural towns in Ireland, Scotland and elsewhere.
Not every country is the same when it comes to enforcing road laws, either. In Lebanon, for example, road signs and streetlights are traditionally followed willy-nilly, as if they’re merely markers rather than instructions. In some parts of the world the driver has the right of way while on the roundabout, while in others it is the person coming onto the roundabout who has right of way. To people unaccustomed to the latter, it’s befuddling trying to negotiate how to let someone onto a roundabout while staying out of their way, perhaps resulting in the need to go around until you have an “out.”
When planning your next vacation, where are some of the world’s regions where you’ll have to be most careful on the roads? The World Health Organization (WHO) gathers statistics about all things relating to the wellbeing of a nation, including the rate of road accidents resulting in mortalities. Numbers listed are in terms of annual mortalities per 100,000 people, and to give a familiar point of reference, there are roughly 4 fatal road accidents per 100,000 people in the U.K. each year, and 11 in the U.S. The following are the 10 countries where your life is most likely to be threatened on the roads.
10. Chad: 29.7
With 40,000 km of roadway, this relatively small African nation has a population of over 11 million people speaking French, Arabic and a variety of other languages. People of all races and religions share the roads, without much cooperation, it would seem – unless Chadians are simply not great drivers. This is a young country in terms of the ages of citizens, with nearly 50% being 14 years of age or less, and over one-fifth of the population being between the ages of 15 and 24. This may account for the high accident rate resulting in mortalities. The next 28% of people are between the ages of 24 and 54, with less than 6% being over the age of 55. This is also a very poor country, and the quality of the infrastructure – including roads – reflects this, so it’s likely the high mortality rate on the roads has much to do with the low quality of the traffic management infrastructure.
9. Oman: 30.4
This coastal country on the Arabian Sea is directly under Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Ruled by a sultanate, Oman is slightly smaller than Kansas. With mountainous terrain to the north and south and flat interior desert, more of the roads here are unpaved than paved. Perhaps many accidents are attributable to sandstorms and dust storms raised in the interior by summer winds, or perhaps it is because this nation has a disproportionately high ratio of males to females across all age groups. Almost 43% of the population are between the ages of 25 and 54, with a ratio of 1.4 males to every female. Generally, countries have much closer ratios – too much testosterone in the roads in Oman?
8. Guinea-Bissau: 31.2
Bordered by Senegal and Guinea, with the Atlantic Ocean to its west, this West-African country with a population of just 1.7 million manages to get into a lot of scrapes on the road. Picture angry drivers yelling at each other in Portuguese, all the while failing to slow down or change their habits after a road argument or even an accident. Of the population, less than 1% are European and/or mulatto, with more than 99% being African. Under 7% of the entire population makes it to the age of 55 or older! This might explain the number of road accidents as young people are known to more often get into this kind of trouble, and the median age in this nation is 19 for men and women, both.
7. Iraq: 31.5
Like many on this list, Iraq has a small population of people over age 55, at only 6.4%. IN this case, analysts can’t help but wonder – how much the age demographic of a nation’s population contributes to fatal road accidents? Numbers suggest a lower elderly population (and, accordingly, a higher young population) may increase negative statistics. For instance Canada, with more than one-third of its population over 55, has a low incidence of mortalities from accidents at only 4 deaths per 100,000. The island of Jamaica, with 15% over the age of 55, also has much better results than countries listed here, with 11 mortalities per 100,000. This is a very loose corollary, but it does seem that countries with younger populations often have more fatal accidents. Indeed, extensive behavioural and psychological studies have supported the theory that young people tend to be more impulsive and reckless – a recipe for driving disasters.
6. Nigeria: 33.7
This most populous of the African nations has more than 250 ethnicities represented within its borders. At 6.1% of the population over 55 years of age, Nigeria exhibits a small elderly population – with a median national age of 18.2 years. Life expectancy here is estimated to be only to 52 years of age, but road accidents are not the only culprit, as there are also many deaths from AIDS, a higher infant mortality rate (largely also due to AIDS) and deaths for other reasons, violent as well as medical. With officially-stated high risks for major infectious diseases as well as piracy off the country’s coast, Nigerian roads are not the only place where people ought to be cautious.
With geographic similarities to its neighboring Iraq, Iran has a median age of 28 years, with 10% of the population over the age of 55. This figure illustrates that the correlation between age and fatal road accidents is not the only factor to consider. Why does this nation, with similarities to Iraq that are not only geographical, rate 5th in the world for road accident mortalities? It would take a massive, ongoing study to tell if this stat is related to education, high mortality and infant mortality rates (creating a sense of hopelessness?), government expenditure on health, or a lack of potable drinking water? Not one measurable issue jumps out other than age, and this is not always consistent.
4. Venezuela: 37.2
One thing the countries on this list do all have in common is mild weather, and perhaps this is an avenue to explore. Cars in milder climates last longer, as is evident when driving across the United States. Older cars are more evident in states with warmer weather and less so in colder. People in colder climes put away their sports cars, vintage cars and jeeps for the winter in, too. Venezuela, like many tropical countries, has a plethora of older vehicles. Who knows what happens when parts are not available. Are there some makeshift mechanics going on? Faulty parts that are kept when they should not be? Whatever the case, Venezuela – already one of the most dangerous countries in the world due to its high crime rate – is a risky place to drive.
3. Thailand: 38.1
This country known for its tropical weather is also marked by several mountainous regions. One report of a fatal road accident between a bus full of school children and a truck February of 2014 tragically lists 15 killed and more than 30 injured. Safety standards are not high here, and road rules badly enforced. Thailand is known for its poor history with regards to road accidents, which are common. The bus, which “looked old” according to police, had been going downhill early in the morning when it crashed into the truck in front of it.
2. Dominican Republic: 41.7
According to sources, road rules are poorly followed in this country also. A red light in the Dominican is referred to by some as being more similar to a “yield” sign. It is considered okay to make a left turn across traffic half way only, to make it into the middle of the road, when you hold up one lane of traffic as you wait for an opportunity to turn. Moves such as this one also likely contribute to the number of fatal road accidents, especially with a side impact. It is also noted that in this country ranked No. 2 for mortalities on the road that horns seem to be used much more than brakes.
1. Niue: 68.3
This island country in the South Pacific is not too far from New Zealand, at only 2400 km away. Niue sits inside the triangle formed by the Cook Islands, Tonga and Samoa. With a population of around 1,200 people, you’d think this Polynesian country could not afford to lose so many to road deaths each year! This Christian nation’s population growth rate is actually negative, with the population between 2010 and 2014 having fallen by about 200 people. How do you stop people from killing each other with motorized vehicles? This tiny country has 64 km of coastline and a total of 260 sq km. One would think for most daily errands, bicycles and a few small buses might suffice! Perhaps it’s time for this small nation to ditch the car altogether.