Which Countries Are Most Dangerous For Drivers

Which Countries Are Most Dangerous For Drivers

Most Dangerous Countries For Drivers

Earlier this week South Africans woke to news of one of the largest multi vehicle accidents to have struck our roads. The vehicle pileup occurred on the N3 highway in KwaZulu-Natal on Easter Monday and involved more than 20 light vehicles, 5 trucks and 8 minibus taxis.

Multi vehicle crashes aren’t unusual, of course, and car crashes on the Easter weekend are quite common, but many South Africans have been discussing the state of roads and safe driving concerns both locally and abroad.

Why are road accidents on the rise?

This is a difficult question to answer as one needs to consider a variety of factors. This is a difficult question to answer as one needs to consider a variety of factors. Note that we did not include statistics from war-torn areas as these are considered perilous for numerous other reasons, nor did we cover the most dangerous roads worldwide as they are widely covered elsewhere.

More people = more hazards

One of the more obvious reasons that we see a rise in road accidents is quite simply population growth. The more people there are, the more people are on the roads.

Better technology = more distraction

While automotive and roadway technologies are improving by the day, there is an unfortunate downside to this. Steve Casner’s book, Careful: A User’s Guide to Our Injury-Prone Minds, notes that while people think they’re less distracted by using voice prompts compared to texting, it takes the brain almost 30 seconds to reorient and focus on the road when we’re busy with something else.

Studies by MIT indicate that increased automation makes drivers more careless since they overestimate their safety and pay less attention on what their doing. With cars increasingly taking over tasks meant for the driver, drivers feel more comfortable with letting their minds wander.

Motortrend notes that many drivers also forget about best practices on the roads due to smart technologies. Many cars have features which automatically switch on headlamps when it gets dark – but these lights don’t necessarily switch on when there are other visibility issues such as heavy rain, fog or snow. Drivers assume the car will do the work for them and therefore don’t use manual controls when needed and will also leave on certain features like traction control in conditions where it makes driving harder. Stress = altered driver behaviours

NHTSA data indicates that while vehicle miles travelled during the pandemic decreased by 11% in the USA during 2020 due to Covid-19, traffic fatalities rose by 6.8% for the same period and increased even more in 2021, with a 12% increase. Psychologists put heads together to determine the cause. They found that the impact of economic recession paired with lockdown impacted driver mentality greatly. Many drivers merely become too distracted by the stresses they experience in daily life to concentrate on the roads while others deliberately seek out risky behaviours. According to Dr Kira Mauseth from Seattle University, people become more impulsive, less regulated and less likely to consider consequences when faced with such enormous concomitant stressors. In reference to the pandemic, Mauseth stated that under stressful circumstances, “people are going to do things that might be considered risky or out of character to feel good, to feel alive.”

South Africa – drunk drivers & hijackings

Despite our general safety concerns due to crime, South Africa is not generally considered one of the most hazardous places for driving.

Luckily for us, South Africans can generally make light of serious situations, as was the case with our very own ‘Sinkhole Teacher’, Craig Foster from Fourways, Johannesburg. Foster used the premise of the heartwarming documentary ‘My Octopus Teacher’ to create a series of shoots in sinkholes where he documented his ‘vacation’ in the waterlogged sinkholes of Johannesburg.

By far the highest risk for drivers on our roads is due to alcohol use. This is compounded by the low rate of seat belt wearing.

We have the highest rates of cash-in-transit heists on the roads. Unlike certain other countries, however, these heists rarely lead to accidents or death tolls for those not involved in the chases or heists. The oddity about South African roads is that our drivers are actually quite capable – even those who drive illegally. Our taxi drivers and truckers – who are often at fault on the road – are far more regulated and usually rather desperate to retain their jobs. This anomaly is driven by the informal taxi business having spawned a lucrative business industry which is governed by ‘taxi bosses’. While these bosses are linked to numerous other perils – such as taxi violence, corruption and so forth – the unexpected upshot is that they generally reward those drivers who are most capable and rebuke those who tarnish their reputations, cause accidents or create carnage on the roads.

South Africa also has a relatively low car theft rate, though we top the logs in terms of hijackings – with Joburg considered the hijacking capital of the world.

New Zealand – car theft & ram raids

According to the Australian National Motor Vehicle Theft Reduction Council, New Zealand tops the list of car thefts with 636 thefts per 100 000 population (in 2021) at more than 10x the theft rate of other countries surveyed.

AA Insurance, New Zealand’s notes that car theft increased 36.5% from 2021 to 2022. This high rate of theft was prevalent before covid by Knoema – at a rate of 1001 cases per 100 000.

Ram raids, which aren’t known by this terminology elsewhere in the world, are crimes where drivers ram into premises and raid goods – often recording the crimes and posting it online. It’s a phenomenon which is not widely known outside of New Zealand. The big difference in these raids compared to similar crimes worldwide is the recording and uploading of crimes.

Another oddity which contributes to the high rate of car theft in New Zealand is the source of vehicles – Japan. With a very low rate of car theft, many Japanese cars don’t come standard with an alarm or immobiliser. Keeping car costs down when there is little risk of burglary or theft makes sense in Japan, but this also makes certain cars an easy target for criminals and thieves share this information with each other. Detective Senior Sergeant Damon Wells of Canterbury Police noted that thieves often target cars which aren’t as robust as others and lack immobilisers, thereby making them easy to steal – with most thefts occurring in broad daylight compared to other countries.

Zimbabwe – sub-par vehicles

Zimbabwe has the highest rate of fatalities due to road accidents in Africa and a recorded car crash every 15 minutes. The shocking part is that road accidents are increasing dramatically, with a 35% increase between 2011 and 2019.

Most cars purchased in Zimbabwe are bought second-hand. Given the socio-economic climate of the nation, it’s a given that infrastructure would not be suitably maintained, but the highest factor in crashes is the quality of vehicles. Many vehicles travel on the roads without the most basic safety features such as headlights, tail lights, adequate brakes or turn signals.

With 18 481 km of paved and 78 786 km of unpaved roads in the country there is limited lighting along the rural roads, which also makes it difficult to spot pedestrians and animals such as cattle, donkeys and goats along the roads – especially if cars lack sufficient lights. Given the high rates of crime, many pedestrians often don dark attire purposely in order to avoid detection by those who would wish to harm them – this holds particularly true of those who wish to cross the border illegally between Zimbabwe and South Africa.

In an effort to prevent skidding, rural residents have also filled up potholes and other hazards with large stones and rubble which is hard to spot at night.

To compound matters, traffic officials and police are known for their corruption. This is at such a high level that international travel advisories instruct drivers in Zimbabwe to comply with officials’ requests irrespective of whether or not they’ve erred on the road.

Mexico – kidnapping by convoy

While other countries have higher rates of forced abduction, Mexico has one of the highest rates of kidnapping for ransom (or execution) via roadways in non-war torn regions. Many incidents have been recorded on dash cams where drivers have suddenly faced roadblocks by armed militias or cartels hoping to get drivers to stop.

Although most people are kidnapped for ransom, the criminals who commit these crimes are known for their brutality, and those who are kidnapped are usually not left unscathed. Kidnapping for ransom is prevalent around the world – including Afghanistan, Somalia, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Turkey, Nigeria, Afghanistan, Libya and many other world regions. But while those who are abducted are often treated poorly – with lack of food and harsh living conditions – the risk of brutality is far higher in Mexico where kidnappers aren’t afraid to ‘off’ those who can’t pay or those kidnapped due to mistaken identity (for instance, where other travellers are mistaken for US citizens). 

Cartel violence is so widespread and the value of life so low, that these criminals simply aren’t as keen for the financial incentive and more intent on the violence and terror which reinforces their status to instil fear in the hearts of citizens, travellers, as well as their foes.

Among the 10 most dangerous cities for violence Mexico takes the top spot, with Tijuana, Acapulco, Ciudad Victoria, Ciudad Juárez and Irapuato all listed in the top 6.

USA – inexperience & aggression

While many people may think the USA’s entry on this list would be due to the sheer number of drivers, there are other factors at play.

According to Griffith Law, age plays a pivotal role in car crashes. Drivers under the age of 20 pose the highest threat on the roads (more than triple the amount of fatal crashes) and this is attributed to the ‘distraction factor’ of young drivers. They are simply more likely to be distracted and not concentrate on the roads. Moreover, since most people in the USA don’t learn to drive in transmission/manual (‘stick-shift’) cars, they spend significantly less time learning to drive.

The US Department of Transportation found that car fatalities have spiked dramatically in the past decade. This has been attributed to drivers being less vigilant on the road and having less coordination during driving. People who learn to drive with manual cars need to hone their coordination, skill and timing during the driving process far better than those who learn to drive with automatic cars.

The New Scientist reports that people who drive manual cars are simply more attuned to their surroundings since automatic cars allow drivers to forget about the road and complete numerous tasks without conscious thought.

A study published by the US National Center for Biotechnology Information in the National Library of Medicine indicates that manual transmission enhances attention and driving performance. A similar study by the European Transport Research Review indicated that drivers are less distracted by other activities when they operate manual transmission cars and more capable of performing corrective actions

Another factor at play on US roads is driver aggression. According to the NHTSA, 66% of fatalities on US roads are caused by aggressive driving. Whether this be by citizens or by authorities themselves.

Lastly, the USA has some of the most perilous road conditions – some of the greatest multi-vehicle crashes in history have occurred in certain parts of the US. With the highest incidence of snow storms, tornadoes and hurricanes altogether in one region, many drivers are simply not equipped to deal with hazardous driving conditions – especially when driving out of state or cross-country.

To top it off, while South Africa has a higher incidence of fatal accidents caused by drunk driving, we have far higher penalties for drunk driving than in the USA. SA imposes penalties of a minimum R2 000 fine and a criminal record of 10 years as well as the possibility of up to 6 years imprisonment and a driver’s licence suspension if caught driving under the influence – a DUI in the USA has limited consequences, with most drivers required to spend 2 – 3 days maximum in holding, and their DUI’s held on their record. They also have a lower limit of driving while under the influence than most countries in the world.

The Netherlands – cycling hazard

The Netherlands is known for its high proportion of cyclists to cars on the roads. While this is a pro in terms of environmental and health measures, the pros are somewhat countered by the high proportion of drivers on the roads who are not from the Netherlands.

As a tourist hub, the Netherlands welcomes all EU citizens and is also highly attractive for international visitors. Although native citizens are quite attuned to pedestrians and cyclists on the roads, foreign drivers aren’t used to roads belonging to more than just cars. As a result, the Netherlands has the second-highest cyclist fatality per million inhabitants in the EU. While Romania has a higher rate, Romania sees far less tourists and foreign travellers and road deaths are attributed to other factors as well (such as poor signage and road conditions).

When driving in the Netherlands it’s therefore crucial to remain vigilant – whether driving a car or bicycle – since many drivers aren’t aware of the particular rules in the country. Most countries don’t have such a high concentration of pedestrians and cyclists, which means new drivers in the area may not be as attuned to these roadways.

Russia – daredevil fame

The world often pokes fun at Russia for being a country of drunkards, but surprisingly drunk driving is not nearly the highest cause of road fatalities and collisions. More than a third of road traffic deaths in Russia are caused by speeding, with driving under the influence accounting for about 10% of road crashes.

One thing Russian drivers have more than every other nation are dashcams. While this feature increased due to the need to determine culpability in accidents and to counter bribes by corrupt officials, it’s also led to a dangerous trend. Russia has seen an influx of daredevils filming themselves while driving at manic speeds on perilous roads, performing stunts, or even trying to record themselves in perilous conditions (such as under cars in precarious positions), in order to claim compensation from insurers or employers. Many drivers started uploading these films on platforms like YouTube, with millions of views encouraging even more aggressive and risky driving on the roads. Those without dashcams are prone to using their cell phones while driving in an effort to increase their own views. Such is the trend that Pallas Télévision in France created a documentary, ‘Extreme Road Videos: Russia’ to discuss the phenomenon.

While current statistics aren’t available, Russia had the highest mortality rate due to road traffic injuries of the European nations at 21.1 per 100 000 people, with the European average at 11 (2009).

With such a large span of roadways, it’s also quite impossible for authorities to catch up with road maintenance. Poor medical services in remote areas also mean that many road accidents aren’t tended to by authorities in a short timeframe, which makes driving outside urban areas a perilous undertaking.

Some rural areas offer other perils. The Road of Bones – constructed by exiles to Stalin’s gulags – gets its name from the estimated 250 000 to 1 000 000 people who died while constructing it. While the sharp edges on the road aren’t necessarily linked to the bones of those who died during its construction, the 1 868 km road linking Russia’s far east with the rest of the country has vast stretches of desolation with no inhabitants or help for hundreds of kilometres. With an estimated 4 to 5 days required to cover this vast stretch of abandoned road, breaking down in this area won’t see you get any help soon, and will leave you in the midst of the eerie tragic history of Russia among the bones of the dead.

Spain – highway robbery

This may come as a surprise for South African readers, but Spain ranks far higher in terms of theft. This theft is not restricted to drivers alone, but cyclists and pedestrians as well. 

In a rather high profile case, F1 driver Sebastian Vettel suffered this fate after the Spanish Grand Prix – making him the third F1 driver to have suffered a mugging or robbery in Spain. The rate of literal ‘highway robbery’ in Spain is so high and has been so persistent that the British Embassy has issued several alerts to travellers visiting Spain over the years.

The risk of literal highway robbery is highest for those travelling by car from other European nations since the robbers usually target cars with foreign registration plates. One of the most active areas for such robberies occurs on the AP7 motorway between the French border and the Valencia region, with the coastal roads between Barcelona and Alicante as well as the Madrid region also considered hot spots for robbery.

One of the most common tactics used by robbers – whether on the road or on sidewalks – is distraction.  They are prone to flagging motorists, cyclists or pedestrians that something’s wrong – whether a broken tail-light, flat tyre, something falling out of their bag, and so forth. Once the victim stops, accomplices enter the scene to rob the victim or raid the vehicle – usually without their knowledge while they are being distracted and entertained by the purported samaritan.

Unlike South Africa where people are often forcefully robbed at gunpoint or using some other form of intimidation, the tactics of robbers in Spain are usually furtive and many people may be unaware that they have been robbed until far later. Since travellers often travel long stretches in a day, this makes it far more difficult for them to determine where they were robbed, if they even register this at all. 

Thailand – pedestrian & two-wheeler hazard

Despite having fewer cars and trucks on the road, Thailand has one of the highest rates of road fatalities in the world.

There are numerous factors which play into this. The WHO ranks Thailand as the 9th most dangerous country in the world for road safety, with an estimated 20 000 deaths on the road each year.

As a country which flourishes on tourism and with many drivers navigating the roads via small roadways or using small vehicles like scooters on roads they aren’t used to driving, the highest incidence of fatalities on Thailand’s roads comes from pedestrian deaths at 47% overall. A contributing factor to this is many tourists’ ignorance about road rules when visiting the area. Roadways are notoriously narrow, drivers need to know how to stop and start while navigating busy intersections and curves in the road and there are few signposts, speed bumps and intersections with clear indications of how road users need to navigate.

The WHO notes that one of the biggest obstacles on Thailand’s roads is poor traffic rule enforcement. As with South Africa, many drivers who are pulled over by police pay ‘fines’ at the stop and then just continue on their way. The money paid is, of course, not a fine but a bribe. While this type of corruption is not specific to Thailand, it is making it more difficult to encourage safe driving behaviours since drivers know that they can generally get a slap on the wrist by carrying some extra cash around. The WHO further estimates that approximately 40% of fatalities on Thai roads could be prevented with the use of a helmet – something which only about 50% of motorcyclists and 20% of pillion passengers do.

India – dangerous roads & crowded streets

India has long been known for being one of the most dangerous places to travel by road. In 2018, the country had the highest rate of road accident fatalities and 3rd highest rate of road injuries in the world.

Consider that mandatory use of seatbelts for all passengers had become a legal requirement in South Africa in 1996, and yet this is not a requirement in India. While such a law may not necessarily guarantee compliance, it is a step forward in a country with so many deaths. Another problem with regulation is the non-standardisation of driving tests as different states each have different standards for driver qualification.

Busy intersections not only make it harder for drivers to understand which traffic signs and signals to adhere to, but it also makes it more likely for drivers to purposely change lanes, jump traffic signals or drive into oncoming traffic to get past traffic jams.

Law enforcement also has a very difficult time catching transgressions given the elaborate network of roadways in India – at 5,89 million kilometres it is the second longest in the world. Even if drivers are caught, it’s often difficult to prove they’re at fault since many cars are manufactured with subpar equipment or cutting corners on safety features – making it hard to determine culpability.

In rural areas the cause of crashes is most often a combination of risky driving paired with dangerous road conditions. Known as the ‘Highway to Hell’, regional roads present a maelstrom of safety hazards to drivers. These roadways are known for sharp turns, narrow roadways, steep cliffs, mud, rockfalls, ice, strong winds, fog, deep potholes, landslides and blind turns. To add to the terror of driving these roads, there are often traffic jams with vehicles stacked sky-high with goods which make them top-heavy. The high altitude of the roads can also present drivers with fatigue from oxygen deprivation.

The Philippines – traffic jams & right of way

The Philippines is not generally known for that many collisions and road fatalities, but it can be an utter nightmare to navigate the streets if you’re not used to the chaotic driving.

This holds particularly true in the capital, Manila. The city’s drivers are known for their rather lax concern for road rules and you’ll often see triple lane changes, cars driving into oncoming traffic to get out of traffic jams and drivers crossing between cars at a 90 degree angle to cross a roadways. There’s also no right of way for pedestrians, which means those travelling on foot should be extra vigilant when crossing roads as drivers aren’t bound to stop for you. Added to the confusion for visitors is the unusual rule which specify which drivers are allowed on the road on which days and times, which could land tourists in trouble.

Bolivia – dangerous roads & tourism

Bolivia may not have the highest incidence of alcohol use or other reckless driving stats, but despite its maximum speed limit of 80 km/h, they also have some of the most perilous roads and the lowest incidence of car and personal safety features on the road.

The seatbelt wearing rate for drivers and passengers in Bolivia stands at a mere 4%, according to Zutobi. This is a staggering statistic for a country which one road is literally dubbed the ‘Death Road’.

Oddly enough, publicity around Death Road has actually increased traffic along the route since many daredevil tourists deliberately seek out the dangerous drive. This trend has somewhat countered the government’s attempt at diverting traffic to the nearby Ruta Nacional 3.

While the road is merely 36,4 km long, it used to be one of the only roadways to connect Coroico with the capital La Paz. One problem with the roadway is that many drivers often don’t grasp the ‘rules of the road’ in this area. While the rest of Bolivia drives on the right, Carretera de los Yungas switches sides so drivers can drive on the left to have a better view around the zig-zagging turns. The road has no guardrail and is so narrow that a single vehicle can barely fit on it. Added to this, it has cliff sides of more than 900 metres and drops of more than 300 metres on either side in certain places.

Death Road is not the only hazardous roadway in Bolivia, with South Yungas Road (Chulumani Road) claiming nearly as many casualties as the former.

UAE – traffic jams & unconventional road rules

Ranked as the most traffic dense country in the world, the United Arab Emirates tops the list at a remarkable 406 traffic hours per year, with the closest on its heels Taiwan at 243.

For comparison, most UAE drivers spend nearly 17 total days stationary in traffic – which is longer than the time it would take to cover the world’s longest drivable distance from Cape Town, South Africa to Khasan, Russia (21 887 km).

The UAE has some of the best road infrastructure on the road, but drivers who aren’t used to the norms may be rather stressed on the roads. In addition to the traffic, drivers use unconventional cues in traffic which foreigners may not understand.

Flashing lights and honking horns are an everyday pastime on UAE roads. Drivers usually flash others in the fast lane to indicate that they need to make way and move to a slower lane. While this is common in other world regions, it’s actually perfectly legal in the UAE and not necessarily deemed an act of aggression. If both drivers can maintain a safe distance, then the front driver should make way for the faster driver behind him. Should this happen to you in the UAE, the trick is to put on your indicator to show the driver behind that you intend to move to a slower lane once you have the means to do so.

Braking when being tailgated is actually considered a road traffic violation, so don’t attempt this on Emirate roads. Tailgating is, however, only allowed if the driver behind indicates that they want to overtake by flashing their lights.

While many Arabian nations have kicked back against the idea that ‘stunt driving’ is a cultural pastime, it should be noted that there is a high incidence of such risky driving in the UAE in particular. This is particularly common among young Emiratis, as demonstrated in the film City of Life which showcase young men performing stunts on bikes and cars while standing, hanging out windows or even blindfolded.

Staying put or heading out?

If you’ve your sights set on the greener grass of the greater globe, feel free to leave your details below and we’ll get back to you.


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  40. News, Eyewitness. 2023. “WHO Reveals Zimbabwe Has Deadliest Roads In Southern Africa”. Ewn.Co.Za. https://ewn.co.za/2022/01/14/zimbabwe-has-deadliest-roads-in-southern-africa-crash-every-15-minutes.
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