Driving can be a risky business at the best of times. According to the World Health Organization, 1.35 million people die each year as a result of road traffic crashes, while between 20 and 50 million more suffer non-fatal injuries, with many incurring a disability as a result of their injury. And when driving abroad, there are different rules and cultural norms to consider, unfamiliar roads to navigate, different weather and maybe even the need to drive on the opposite side of the road. As such, risk can be even higher and the need for comprehensive insurance is, essentially, non-negotiable.
Speaking to industry experts, ITIJ set out to pinpoint the key risks facing drivers abroad, explore the insurance cover available to them and investigate how travel insurers are working to increase awareness around the dangers of driving abroad and developing products to enhance consumer education.
Damian Lenihan, Executive Director − Europe, Aetna International, told ITIJ that a key danger is the tendency for drivers’ so-called autopilot mode to kick in: “Our habitual memory system kicks in, which is why we seem to carry out many really quite complex driving manoeuvres without consciously thinking about them,” he said.
But this is dangerous, particularly when driving in unfamiliar territory, and remaining alert and aware at all times is paramount. “When abroad, the risk is that driving on the other side of the road, obeying different rules – both legal and cultural – and taking unfamiliar routes require a lot more careful attention,” he stated. “It’s important that drivers stay cognisant of their surroundings and aware of how other people around them are driving. It’s also really important to remain calm – stress and anxiety do not go hand in hand with good driving.”
Lee Taylor, Chief Sales Officer, Allianz Assistance, said that a key risk for drivers abroad is unfamiliarity with the different laws in another country. “One of the biggest risks for motorists abroad is the fact that they may be unaware of certain legal requirements for driving in the country they are visiting,” he confirmed. “For example, some travellers may head to France and drive without carrying a breathalyser, something that is required by law.” This is why it’s crucial that drivers familiarise themselves with the rules of the country or countries they will be driving in before they set off.
Taylor also pointed out that Brexit will likely have an impact for Brits driving in Europe. For example, it could affect the documents that UK drivers abroad require, he explained: “If the UK does not agree a deal with the EU in the Brexit transition period ending December 2020, holidaymakers could find themselves in need of an International Driving Permit (IDP). Motorists should be in possession of their UK driving licence and original logbook (V5C − a copy will not suffice), and will need to consider all countries they will be travelling in, not just their destination country. Furthermore, they may need extra documents from 1 January 2021, and if taking their own vehicle, they might also need a ‘green card’ or valid proof of insurance and a GB sticker.”
Saul Shanagher of beTravelwise, in the UK, highlighted that there are also security risks to consider, and that these can be exacerbated by unfamiliarity with local laws. “There are potential security risks in some parts of the world, especially if you stand out as non-local, from being asked to make facilitation payments (bribes) to serious incidents, such as car-jacking,” he told ITIJ.
These risks are often made worse by unfamiliarity with local conditions or road rules/laws
"These risks are often made worse by unfamiliarity with local conditions or road rules/laws, driving on a different side of the road, general driving standards, general vehicle standards, road infrastructure standards and lack of support in the event of a breakdown/incident. Individuals can exacerbate the situation by travelling on/in two- or three-wheeled modes of transport, speeding, driving at night and not wearing seatbelts.”
Cover for driving abroad
When it comes to cover, driving abroad tends not to be covered on most standard travel insurance policies. But that’s not to say that cover isn’t available. “When renting a car, it usually comes with insurance,” Lenihan said. And, said Taylor, if someone is driving abroad in their own car, their motor insurance policy should provide financial peace of mind in the event of an accident or incident. But, there are measures people should take to ensure they are covered for vehicle-related damages. “Individuals should always check what they are covered for under their insurance policies, and are advised to contact their insurer a month before travel in order to obtain appropriate motor insurance green cards if necessary,” Taylor told ITIJ. “Motorists should also ensure that they top up their motor insurance policy with adequate breakdown insurance to suit their individual requirements.
Individuals should consider, for example, what their potential requirements might be with regards to onward transport for the duration of their stay, as well as the level of cover required for repatriation of themselves and their own vehicle in the event that repair cannot be effected before their planned return home.”
Taylor also said that people should still purchase travel insurance, but that this is for peace of mind against an entirely different set of risks, such as emergency medical expenses, delayed departure, personal accident and loss of passport. “If motorists are hiring a rental car when driving abroad, the hire agreement and cost will include cover for accidental damage or theft, also known as collision damage waiver (CDW). However, many holidaymakers often aren’t aware that if the hire car is stolen or damaged, they will still be liable to pay an excess amount before the rental company covers the rest of the cost,” he told ITIJ. “Therefore, individuals should consider taking out Car Hire Excess Insurance, which takes away the financial strain by reimbursing any excess deducted by a rental company, in the event of a claim. As with any insurance policy, individuals should always read the terms and conditions to understand exactly what they are covered for before they travel. If they have any queries, they must contact their travel insurance provider.” So, as ever, travellers being clued up on what they are and aren’t covered for and ensuring their policy meets their individual needs is key, as is communicating with their provider.
ITIJ also spoke with Sharad Mathur, a seasoned general insurance industry expert in India. He said that when driving a vehicle abroad, the following cover is available in various travel insurance policies: medical emergency, personal accident and personal possessions. Importantly, Mathur pointed out that, “Cover is unavailable under personal liability while driving abroad. So, if a driver accidentally hurts someone or damages someone’s property, they will not be covered. This is a travel insurance industry-standard clause. The driver needs to make sure that the owner of the vehicle or the hire company provides them with sufficient liability cover.”
Enhancing consumer education
Travel insurers play an important role in raising travellers’ awareness of the potential risks inherent in driving, and there are various ways in which they do so. “Travel insurers are always working to ensure that policyholders are fully aware of the terms and conditions of their policies and they understand what they are covered for when they go abroad. Many insurers produce guides to help policyholders understand the different requirements and potential dangers of driving abroad so that they have all the information needed before they set off,” said Taylor.
The greater insureds' awareness, the less likely they are to be involved in road traffic accidents
Mathur said that insurers also create awareness by recommending that travellers buy a country driving kit. Such kits include the items essential to drivers in a particular country. For example, there are certain items that are compulsory for a driver to carry in specific destinations – an original registration document is a requirement in all European countries, as is motor vehicle insurance, as well as a sticker denoting the car's country of origin. “Such kits prove vital in some countries where it is the law for drivers to carry supplementary objects in their car,” Mathur told ITIJ. “Insurers propagate critical checklists and insert one with the policy document. The checklist informs drivers of everything they need to know for driving abroad, from what to carry with them to things to remember when they get there. European driving checklist, featuring: significant documents for driving in Europe; obligatory tools for driving in Europe; suggested things to take when driving in Europe.” Mathur also pointed out that insurers run awareness campaigns and send online educational messages to policyholders and travellers featuring the dangers of driving abroad.
The greater insureds' awareness, the less likely they are to be involved in road traffic accidents and, thus, the less likely they are to be needing emergency medical assistance and a payout for related medical treatment – and, potentially, repatriation – costs.
The role of technology
In addition to consumer education, insurers are also developing innovative products for driving abroad, and novel ways of enhancing consumer awareness. One of these is working to rid policy documents of ‘jargon’, which can be off-putting for consumers and lead to misunderstandings. “Many insurers, including Allianz Assistance, are looking at all policy documents to ensure they are ‘jargon free’ and easy for consumers to understand,” Taylor told ITIJ. “The business recognises its responsibility to invest in the quality of these communications and the importance of making sure they are clear and avoid small print or long sentences. This will ensure policy documents can be read and understood by all, reducing any opportunity for misinterpretation.”
Familiarity with a travel route and destination can also help people feel more secure
And technology can play an important role in pushing out new products and policies to clients. For example, many insurers have mobile apps that consumers can download and use to stay clued up on new developments. “Such apps incorporate lots of educational information on the dangers associated with driving abroad, and other relevant topics to educate potential clients, as well as policyholders,” said Mathur. In fact, Lenihan believes that technology has revolutionised driving abroad. “For example, things such as sat nav and Waze help drivers to get to where they need to go much more easily than old-fashioned paper maps, and can also help with traffic, speed limits and other road conditions,” he told ITIJ.
“Familiarity with a travel route and destination can also help people feel more secure when they are abroad, and so it’s always worth travellers investigating what kind of pre-trip planning advice their travel insurer provides online. Whether it’s notice about adverse weather conditions or something more serious such as political unrest, forewarned is forearmed when it comes to staying healthy and well when travelling abroad.”
In conclusion, the risks associated with driving abroad are manifold but there are measures in place that make it as safe as possible. Providing travellers have adequate cover and exercise vigilance, there is no reason why driving abroad can’t be a pleasant and safe experience. And with insurers keen to educate travellers on how they can ensure they are safe while driving abroad – from the documentation they need with them to the different laws they must obey – clear communication between insurers and travellers provides an extra layer of protection. On top of this, insurers are making use of technology such as mobile apps to ensure drivers abroad have all of the information they need to hand (although, they obviously should not refer to it while driving), and looking to make policies as clear and concise as possible to remove potential pitfalls and misunderstandings. The ability to drive abroad can add an extra layer of freedom to a traveller’s experience and, with travellers and insurers in sync, the phrase ‘it’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey’, rings true.