To drive or not to drive? It’s a question that inevitably comes up when planning a trip abroad — and with good reason. Renting a car gives you the freedom to explore a country at your own pace. But between unfamiliar roads, nonsensical traffic signs, and speedy drivers (I’m looking at you, Italy), driving in some foreign countries can put you on the verge of a stress-induced meltdown, so road safety should always be a part of your decision.

Luckily, you have some help deciding whether to brave the roads, thanks to a study by the University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute. The study compared the number of fatalities per 100,000 people in 193 of the world’s 196 countries.

What did they find? If you’re looking for a tropical escape or a cultural getaway (and why wouldn’t you be?), you’re in luck. Some of the countries with the safest roads just happen to fit the bill.

Oh and, in case you’re wondering, the U.S. fell in the middle of the pack with 14 fatalities per 100,000 in population, making it the 97th most dangerous country for drivers. All the more reason to make sure you have the coverage you need.

Top 10 safest countries for drivers

10. Switzerland

With all those Alpine passes, tunnels, and superhighways, you may be nervous to travel Switzerland by car. But the roads are well maintained and clearly marked, which may be why this country has the 10th lowest fatality rate from road crashes in the world.

9. The Netherlands

The highway system in the Netherlands is modern and easy to navigate. Plus, the government is working to improve road safety by cracking down on traffic offenders, particularly drivers under the influence of alcohol and other legal substances. So if you’re going to partake in the, let’s just say, extracurricular activities Amsterdam offers, stick to public transportation.

8. Antigua and Barbuda

If you’re a parrothead like I am, you’ve probably been dreaming of sailing off to Antigua since the first time you heard Jimmy Buffett’s “Fins.” Luckily there are very few fatalities on the roads of these 2 islands. But, according to vacationer reviews, there are a lot of potholes and even some animals in the road. Plus, traffic drives on the left side of the road. If you’re not ready for that, consider skipping the car rental. It’ll give you more time to relax on the beach with a piña colada.

7. Tonga

There must be something about island living that discourages road rage, because this South Pacific archipelago is 1 of 6 island nations on this list. Like some of the other islands, traffic in Tonga moves on the left, and the roads aren’t always in the best condition. So do your research before you decide whether to rent a car.

6. Israel

Despite what the news might have you believe, Israel has a pretty good safety record for drivers. In fact, given the country’s small size, exploring by car is a great way to see as many sites as possible. Just watch where you park — law enforcement’s notoriously quick to ticket and/or tow.

5. Marshall Islands

Ever felt like running away from it all and hiding out on a remote Pacific island? Try the Marshall Islands. With 4 fatalities per 100,000 people, you can drive from beach to beach without much worry. Seriously, do a Google image search of the Marshall Islands right now. Imagine yourself there and you’ll forget all your problems (for a minute anyway).

4. Fiji

According to Frommer’s, Fiji’s roads are narrow and poorly maintained, and not all drivers there are particularly experienced. It’s somewhat surprising, then, that the country ended up having one of the lowest road-crash fatality rates in the world. Maybe everyone’s at the beach …

3. Malta

Like its boot-shaped neighbor to the north, this small Mediterranean island is known for fast drivers and chaotic traffic. Unlike Italy, though, it has one of the lowest crash fatality rates, so apparently its drivers know what they’re doing. Use caution when driving there, because traffic moves on the left (although drivers tend to go wherever they want).

2. Tajikistan

In researching this one, I’m not sure how Tajikistan made the list. The U.K. government’s foreign travel site says this mid-Asian country has poorly maintained and treacherous roads due to the mountainous terrain. But Tajikistan has an extremely low number of road-crash fatalities, so they must be doing something right.

1. Maldives

The tropical climate, picturesque beaches, and world-class resorts are so worth a trip around the world to visit the Maldives — and its road safety record doesn’t hurt either. With 2 fatalities per 100,000 people, the Maldives has the world’s lowest road-crash fatality rate.

Top 10 most dangerous countries for drivers

The study also ranked countries with the highest fatality rates per 100,000 in population. Some of them are developing nations, while others are the sites of political conflict or unrest. Either way, if you find yourself in one of the nations below, proceed with caution.

  1. Namibia
  2. Thailand
  3. Iran
  4. Sudan
  5. Swaziland
  6. Venezuela
  7. Congo
  8. Malawi
  9. Dominican Republic
  10. Iraq

Do you have any awesome (or harrowing) tales of foreign road trips? Share your stories in the comments.

Related links

Going abroad? Watch what you do with your hands.

Or, if you’re traveling domestically, check out the worst U.S. cities for drivers.

Travel hacks | Getting there


about Jonathan

Jonathan is a word nerd, a food freak, and a travel junkie. By day, you'll find him weaving words for Esurance as a Senior Copywriter. But in his off time, he'll likely be digging into a new restaurant in his home base of Denver, Colorado, or white-knuckling his way down a mountainside on a weekend road trip.