The car you rent in a foreign country might fall far short of modern safety standards. In many countries, cars are not required to have basic safety equipment such as air bags…nor must they pass crash tests. Rental companies tend not to adopt vehicle safety standards any stricter than local laws.

Vehicle safety is especially important when driving abroad. The risk of crashing increases dramatically when people drive unfamiliar cars on unfamiliar roads in countries with unfamiliar driving laws and customs.

Rental cars meet modern safety standards in the US, Canada, Western Europe, Japan, Australia and in a few other smaller countries. But this is a problem virtually everywhere else in the world.

Renting from a major car-rental agency and/or choosing a make and model that also is driven in the US is no guarantee of safety—some models are built to vastly different safety standards for different countries. The Chevrolet Aveo, for example, has been sold in both Mexico and the US, but the standard Mexican version does not have air bags.

Taxi passengers are at risk, too. Example: The Nissan Tsuru, the most common car in the Mexican taxi fleet, dramatically failed a recent crash test, earning a zero-star safety rating.

What to do: When you rent a vehicle, choose a midsize or larger SUV or a full-sized sedan. These higher-end cars are more likely to have modern safety equipment…and even if they don’t, their larger frames will provide more protection than a small car in a crash.

If possible, contact the rental agency before your trip and ask for a car that has air bags.

If you need a taxi, ask your hotel’s concierge to call a taxi company that has safe, modern vehicles. This is no guarantee, but it may help. Before climbing into any taxi, check to make sure that it has seat belts in the backseat. If it doesn’t, get out and try another cab.