It's not easy driving a car in another country. You're in an unfamiliar vehicle; you might be driving on the opposite side of the road to what you're used to; there are plenty of local rules you have to figure out as you go along.
And then there are your fellow drivers. In some countries they're placid; in others, they're insane. And sometimes it's not the countries you expect, either – sometimes countries that are otherwise safe and well-run feature drivers who are anything but.
These countries, for me, are the scariest.
This isn't some baseless stereotype: Italian drivers are mental. Whether that's due to incompetence or recklessness it's hard to say. Everyone is just in such a hurry. They tailgate. They cut corners. They weave through traffic without indicating. And it's universal. You'll be driving along a country road minding your business when you notice another car roaring up behind you and settling in about a metre from your bumper. You glance in the rearview mirror expecting it to be a testosterone-charged P-plater, and instead it's a 70-year-old nonna, foot to the floor and nose to the wheel. Classic.
Motorcyclists wait at traffic lights in Hanoi. Photo: Shutterstock
While some road rules are written, others are universally assumed. One of the latter is that it's your responsibility to drive safely, to avoid acting like an idiot so no one else will be inconvenienced or harmed. In Vietnam, however, it doesn't seem to work that way. In Vietnam you can do the dumbest, most dangerous thing you can think of, and it's up to everyone else to get out of your way. Want to ride your scooter on the pavement to avoid a traffic jam? No dramas. Want to pull out in front of three lanes of oncoming traffic? Away you go. No one will get angry at you. They'll just avoid you. It's crazy and it's scary.
Traffic in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photo: Bloomberg
Never again. Never again will I ride the bus in Bangladesh, will I step through the gates of hell and submit myself to hours and hours of near-death experience, of buses overtaking buses around blind corners, of oncoming cars shaving your wing mirrors as they duck back into their lane, of pedestrians scattering and street vendors cowering as you plough through at unbelievable speed. Fancy cars in Bangladesh don't have normal bumpers – they have steel bars surrounding the entire vehicle. Says it all.
There are plenty of social issues that contribute to shockingly high road tolls throughout much of Africa, and I'm not really here to pass judgment on that. What I am here to talk about is the Kenyan need for speed, and the locals' solution to drivers who keep hurtling through their otherwise quiet villages: they build their own speed bumps. These speed bumps are often large mounds of dirt piled up on the highway with no signs to warn drivers of their existence. So you'll be cruising along at a normal speed and then suddenly have to slam on the brakes to avoid having both axles torn off the bottom of your car. Fun.
If you're not 20 kilometres over the speed limit in Spain, expect to be tailgated. Photo: Shutterstock
The Spanish, I've found, like to drive fast. If you're not doing at least 20km/h over the speed limit, there will be someone tailgating you within seconds. People roar around the motorways, overtaking at high speed, weaving in and out of traffic like it's normal. The thing about Spanish drivers, however, is that they appear to be pretty competent. Crazy, but competent. They drive fast, and they drive well. Like most Europeans, they can also reverse-park at 4WD into a space the size of a cupboard like it ain't no thing.
Peak hour in Beijing. Photo: AP
The internet is filled with CCTV and dash-cam footage of drivers in China behaving in ways that most people would consider insane. There was even a story in Slate a few years ago about Chinese drivers intentionally killing pedestrians they'd accidentally hit, though the website Snopes rates those claims as "unproven". Even still, if you spend enough time in China you'll see things on the road you didn't think were possible, and definitely didn't think were a good idea.
Traffic in Cairo only feels safe when it's gridlocked. Photo: Shutterstock
If you've ever taken a cab in Cairo then you'll understand this entry immediately. Traffic in this city is something else. Sometimes it's gridlocked, which at least feels safe. When it gets moving, however, people like to take advantage of that by driving as quickly as possible to get to the next traffic jam. This is one of those times when it's best to amuse yourself in the back seat with some form of entertainment and pretend that what's going on outside is not actually happening.
The Czech Republic gets a vote from me not because of the behaviour of its everyday citizens, who are unremarkable behind the wheel, but because of the cab drivers in Prague, who are lunatics. The idea, I guess, is that the sooner you get your carload of drunken backpackers back to their hostel, the sooner you can be back in town picking up another fare. That results in some of the craziest driving I've witnessed.
Rickshaws, motorbikes, buses and cars mix in Kolkata, India. Photo: Bloomberg
Traffic lights are sometimes treated as more a suggestion than a rule in India. Lane markings are the same. The roads work in their own mysterious way in this country. And not a particularly good way, either: India has a very high road toll, with more than 130 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants per year, according to the WHO (Australia, by comparison, has 7.4). Still, you haven't lived until you've ridden in an Indian rickshaw.
Which country do you think has the craziest drivers? Where have you been the most frightened?
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