Learning from Snooki’s Italian slip-up: How to make driving in another country less foreign
Tamara E. Holmes
“Jersey Shore” fans are used to star Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi getting into hot water. So it was not too much of a surprise to viewers that she crashed into a police car in Florence, Italy, and had her driver’s license confiscated. What may be surprising, however, is how common Snooki’s plight is.
Car crashes are the world’s leading cause of death and injury among tourists, according to the United Kingdom-based FIA Foundation for the Automobile and Society.
Whether you’re traveling in Italy, India or Israel, here’s how to make sure you’re properly protected if you’re behind the wheel of a car and find yourself in Snooki’s unfortunate high heels.
|“Jersey Shore” star Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi’s crash with an Italian police car serves as a reminder of the different auto insurance requirements in other countries.|
Generally speaking, “auto insurance does not leave the U.S. with you,” says Carol Mueller, a spokeswoman for travel insurance provider Travel Guard. However, some U.S. policies may be valid in Canada, Mexico and some South American countries.
Before you book a foreign flight, let your insurance agent know where you’re going, says Bonnie Ramsey, research director at the Association for Safe International Road Travel, a Rockville, Md.-based organization that promotes road safety across the globe. The agent can tell you whether your policy will stand up in a foreign land.
Should you discover that your auto insurance policy won’t cover you abroad, the last thing you should do is try to get by without auto insurance, says Rochelle Sobel, founder and president of the Association for Safe International Road Travel. Traffic rules and regulations vary by country, and the driving culture in another country may be drastically different than it is in the United States. For example, different countries use different criteria to determine which driver has the right of way. “In some countries, it’s the largest vehicle,” Sobel says.
Since many countries don’t recognize U.S. driver’s licenses, you also may have to get an international driving permit through AAA or the National Auto Club.
The penalties for getting in accidents also vary by country. For example, Snooki had her international driver’s license revoked after the accident because the two police officers in the car she hit were slightly injured. Under Italian law, when someone is injured in a car accident, the responsible driver will lose his or her license for at least 15 days. “In some countries, if you hurt someone, you’re put in jail,” Sobel says.
Covering your bases
Of course, no one wants to think about having a car accident while driving overseas, but the numbers prove there’s truly a risk. A 2010 report by the FIA Foundation found that around the world, 25,000 tourist deaths occur on the roads each year. The report says that number could double to 45,000 by 2020 and 75,000 by 2030.
If you get into an accident while out of the country, you’ll want coverage for any damage to the cars involved, as well as liability insurance that could kick in if someone is injured. Your insurance agent or travel agent can assess your situation and instruct you on what coverage you need, the Insurance Information Institute says. When it comes to getting sufficient coverage, you have a number of options, although you want to make sure you’re not duplicating any of them.
Option one: Check with your credit card issuer.
Many credit cards offer cardholders a collision damage waiver as part of their member benefits. While a waiver is not insurance, it takes care of many financial charges resulting from a collision.
Since the terms vary by card, it’s important to call your credit card company and ask for specifics, Ramsey says. For example, in many cases you must pay the entire car rental balance with that card and decline a car rental agency’s collision damage waiver in order to qualify. Likewise, some cards won’t cover certain types of vehicles or accidents in certain countries. It’s also important to note that credit card companies typically don’t offer liability coverage, so you’ll need to buy that elsewhere.
Option two: Look to the rental car company.
If you’re renting a car, you can buy a collision waiver and liability insurance from the rental car company. While the minimum insurance requirements vary from country to country, you’ll want to have coverage that’s at least comparable to what you have at home, the U.S. State Department advises.
Also, make sure you’re aware of the rental car company’s rules. For example, allowing a passenger to drive may void the insurance policy. Likewise, there may be costs that the insurance won’t cover, such as a “loss of use” fee, which some rental companies charge for every day that a damaged car is being repaired. A rental car company may be your best bet for getting liability coverage.
Option three: Buy from an insurance company.
Many travel insurance companies offer auto insurance for tourists. For example, Travel Guard offers car rental collision insurance for either $7 or $9 a day, although it doesn’t offer liability coverage. You also may be able to buy auto insurance from an insurer in the country you’re visiting. For example, the Insurance Information Institute says, you typically can buy auto insurance in Mexican towns near the U.S. border.