International studies show that road accidents are the second largest cause of deaths and injury of tourists and business travelers worldwide.
Road trasport risks threaten travellers’ health much more than epidemics (e.g. COVID19, AIDS), diseases (such as malaria and cholera), international terrorism, violence and crime, air accidents and hijackings.
Thus, the World Health Organization recognizes road accidents as the 2nd most common cause of death of international travelers, while the World Tourism Organization’s expects an important increase of international tourists’ road fatalities by 2030.
In this context, the FIA Foundation has published a report (White, 2010) that highlights the extent of the problem at global level and presents a comprehensive set of recommendations to stakeholders in the tourism sector.
Finally, the preparatory study of the EU Strategic Plan for Road Safety 2020 – 2030 recognises that the high exposure of tourists to road accidents risk should be considered when defining the road safety strategy for the next period.
In Greece, a country with intense tourist activity, especially during the summer months, the above conclusions are confirmed.
As a report by the State Department-USA presents, the majority (35%) of the American travelers’ deaths in Greece during the period 2000 – 2014 caused by road accidents.
The impact of increased tourist flows in Greece on the increase of road accidents is confirmed, especially in popular tourist destinations during the summer months. Thus, the poor road safety performance of the country is further burdened by the increase of traffic in areas with poor road infrastructure (see islands) and under conditions that negatively affect road safety (e.g. increased use of motorcycles, reduced familiarity of foreign tourists with local road environment, fatigue, alcohol use, etc.).
On the other hand, road accidents and in general the perceived road transport risk by the tourists clearly affect the image of the country as a safe destination and therefore the competitiveness of the tourism product, as evidenced by a relevant nationwide survey by Make Roads Safe Hellas.
It is widely accepted that international visitors face higher risks on the roads in the destination countries than residents. A relevant survey by the NTUA estimates that in Greece, international tourists are 25% more likely to be involved in a road accident due to their own fault, than residents.
The road transport risk to which both tourists and residents of an area are exposed depends on several parameters such as the quality/status of the road network, the local driving practices and the effective supervision and traffic law enforcement. Thus, tourists, like residents, face a higher risk in countries or regions with worse road safety performance indicators (e.g. deaths/million inhabitants).
At the same time, international travelers have to deal with a number of additional risk factors, such as poor knowledge of the local road network and traffic rules, insufficient driving skills under unknown circumstances/ unfamiliarity, disorientation, distraction and fatigue that increase the probability of road accidents.
It is well explained that tourists are at greater risk when they are not well prepared, they have insufficient understanding of local road risks or they adopt dangerous driving behaviour (e.g. speeding, driving under the influence of alcohol, not wearing a seat belt or helmet).
People travelling abroad seem to be concerned about risks related to their health and safety, but they mainly focus to less probable threats than road accidents. Thus, their preparation for the road travel at the destination is often inadequate and the acquisition of relevant information is mainly through unofficial and possibly unreliable sources (e.g. forums, personal experiences).
Surprisingly, travel agencies offering advice to international travelers continue to focus on other better understood but less probable health risks, such as infectious diseases and personal safety. Although international organisations (e.g. WHO) and a limited number of national authorities point out the importance of road risks for tourists, a large-scale initiative to promote the road safety of international tourists is still lacking.
Equally alarming is that the tourism industry (e.g. hotels, car rental companies, tourist agencies and operators) generally does not provide advise to international tourists on stay safe on the roads. With some exceptions, it seems that the tourism sector, especially at national or local level, is systematically ignoring the importance of tourists’ road safety for the sustainable tourism development.
Ensuring safe road transport is a prerequisite for the sustainable development of tourism in the country and contributes directly to 2 of the Global Sustainable Development Goals (SDG 3 – Good health and wellbeing and SDG 11 – Sustainable cities and communities. Currently, no systematic effort is being implemented at EU or national level to analyze, monitor and address the problem. Make Roads Safe Hellas pioneers with the idea of implementing national country reports that analyze the extent of the problem on a regular basis, in Greece and abroad. See relevant studies implemented by Make Roads Safe Hellas for the analysis of road safety in relation to international tourism.