Driving abroad? Seven tips for Hongkongers to keep safe on foreign roads

Even experienced drivers can be caught off-guard by different rules and conditions when using a rental vehicle overseas

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 August, 2016, 10:58am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 August, 2016, 3:27pm

A fatal car crash in Hokkaido involving a Hong Kong family has put the spotlight on the dangers of driving abroad.

In this case, a three-year old child died. The father, in his 30s, sustained an arm fracture, while the mother and the boy’s brother sustained minor injuries.

Three-year old boy from Hong Kong killed in Hokkaido, Japan car crash

In 2014–2015, 16 Hong Kong residents were killed or injured on New Zealand roads on three separate occasions. In each case, a Hong Kong driver was at the wheel, but in total, 200 Chinese visitors were killed or injured on the country’s roads since 2009.

As it is common for Hong Kong people to drive during overseas vacations in Europe, the United States, Japan and Taiwan, Wesley Wan Wai Hei, vice-president of the Hong Kong Automobile Association (HKAA), has shared some useful tips about driving abroad.

Know your right-hand drive and left-hand drive when renting a vehicle overseas.

“This is the most important,” Wan said. “Turning the car is different, and motorists are caught out.”

The performance of the car matters.

“This more of a concern in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia,” Wan said based on his own experience, as vehicles in these countries are often locally manufactured and of poorer build and performance quality, which affects the safety and robustness of the car.

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Engine size is a factor.

“In Europe, you can rent a car which is more powerful, if you can afford it. And in Japan, you often rent a smaller car with less power.”

Do not forget about seat belts and baby seats.

The HKAA president said: “With the latest case in Hokkaido involving a family of four, with children aged two and three, two baby seats would be required on top of adult seat belts.”

On insurance: “When I go abroad and drive, I buy full insurance for the car and my passengers,” Wan said.

“I recommend buying the full insurance from the rental car company. They don’t let anyone drive without insurance, but they offer separate insurance for passengers and just for the car. You could buy insurance just for the car, but in an accident that results in medical bills, you are not covered.”

Wan also stressed that Hongkongers should follow and respect the local driving regulations of the countries they visit. The rules range and differ so much that it is useful to do basic research.

“The speed limit is important,” he said.

The weather can also affect drivers. “Usually driving in Hokkaido in winter is dangerous with the snow and ice. But in the summer tourist season, it’s OK.”