How to Be Safe on a Scooter

At first thought, riding a scooter seems like a dangerous thing to do, especially if you have no experience on a motorbike. But, in many parts of the world, travelling on the roads is dangerous in and of itself. The benefit of a scooter is that you are in command—you can take measures to increase your safety, which is something you can’t do when someone else is at the wheel. Here are some tips for keeping safe while on a scooter, no matter where you are.

Wear a Helmet

Seems like a no-brainer, but helmets are not always standard issue. Some places require them by law for the driver, but not for passengers. Don’t be afraid to wear one even if no one else is! Most reputable rental shops will provide helmets with a rental, but sometimes you have to ask for it. Remember that in many jurisdictions, it’s the law (even if locals are ignoring the law, you could be stopped for fined for breaking it). If you’re planning an extended stay it may be worth buying your own helmet.

Get the Gear

It can be very tempting to jump on your scooter in shorts and flip flops, and you probably will. But road rash is the most common injury in beach-town scooter accidents. So wearing long pants (preferably heavy ones) and closed-toe shoes (preferably boots) is a sensible precaution—and a must for road trips on highways. (And don’t forget sunscreen, especially on the backs of your hands!)

Go Slow, But Not Too Slow

As with any driving situation, the safest approach is to keep up with the flow of traffic. You can drive slowly so long as you allow others the room to pass you. But, remember that driving a two-wheeled vehicle too slowly can be more dangerous. It’s important to travel at a certain speed to maintain balance and control, especially for leaning into turns and avoiding obstacles in the road.

Stick to the Side

In the developing world, sticking to the side of the road makes it easier for locals and reckless tourists to pass you. In some places, scooters drive on the shoulder (where it exists). But in other places there is no such thing as a shoulder, and the edge of the road is rough and requires close attention.

Use Your Mirror

When you rent your bike, make sure that the side mirror on the passing side (right for left-side-drive and left for right-side-drive) gives you a clear view of the road behind you. Ask the rental shop to help you adjust the mirror if necessary. If you plan to drive safely and stick to the side, the opposite side mirror is far less important (so don’t worry if it can’t be adjusted).

Play Chicken

In many parts of the world, passing is much more aggressive than in North America. Where the roads are very narrow, it can seem like passing vehicles are playing chicken with oncoming traffic. But such situations are less dangerous when every vehicle is used to the practice. You can increase your safety by slowing down to give the passing vehicle more room to get around you and back into the proper lane before crashing into the oncoming vehicle.

Blow Your Horn

In many parts of the world, horn honking is constant—for North Americans, it can take some getting used to. When driving a scooter in horn-honking locales, you should honk your horn when you are overtaking another vehicle, person, or animal on the side of the road. You should honk your horn when you approach a junction on a country road, or when you are about to take a blind curve. And you might even honk your horn whenever you pass another moving vehicle. While there are traffic lights in cities and larger towns, ordered four-way-stops are pretty much non-existent, so you may need to honk whenever you approach an intersection.

Know the Rules of the Road

The road rules we take for granted in North America will give you good instincts, but it’s much safer to think of traffic as organic—feel your way through roundabouts and junctions, and negotiate the road with other drivers. Once you accept that the rules of the road are fluid, the general patterns will start to make sense to you. And you’ll notice that drivers abroad are much more aware because they can’t rely on rules to protect them.

It’s also important to remember that in places where two-wheelers dominate, cars and trucks will expect you to take advantage of your maneuverability. Don’t wait behind cars in traffic; travel up the side of the road. If there is no room on the outside, drive up the other lane, pulling up next to a car to let oncoming traffic pass. And in urban settings, two-wheelers gather at the front of the line to wait for green lights and turn signals.

Pump it Up

Whenever possible, get gas from a pump. Where labour is cheap, there is no such thing as self-serve. If you are caught short, most shops will sell you gas (usually in water bottles!). This gas will be more expensive, and it may be diluted, so you should buy just enough to get you to the next pump. Sometimes pumps are few and far between and buying gas from water bottles will be your only option.

Prepare in Advance

If you can, practice driving a scooter before you arrive in the “developing” world. With automatic transmissions, scooters are relatively easy to drive. But there’s still the matter of balance, turning, and coordinating the throttle and handbrakes. It will be much easier to navigate, manage traffic, and even drive on the opposite side of the road safely if you’ve got a little experience on a two-wheeler. If you are a complete novice, ask a fellow traveller for a quick lesson, or even a practice session in an empty lot or quiet road. It doesn’t take long to get used to a scooter, but it’s worth a few minutes of prep before you hit the road.

Author’s Note: You should consult your travel medical insurance policy before assuming the risk associated with driving or riding on two-wheeled vehicles.

This post originally appeared on Travel + Escape.