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Driving Croatia and what to expect to help you get safely from A to B
With so many places to see in Croatia that are off the beaten track, the freedom of your own four wheels will definitely come in handy. But there are a few things to keep in mind as you set off on your long-awaited road trip down the Adriatic coast.
As in most European countries, Croatians drive on the right, not unusual for Americans and the majority of the world, but a bit scary for the Australians, New Zealanders, Brits and South Africans (to name almost all of them). Also be prepared for many of the features of the car, like headlights, indicators and windshield wipers, to be in the reverse location. You'll get the hang of it after switching on the wipers instead of indicating a turn a few times.
Try remembering "fright right!", every time you give yourself a fright by not knowing which side of the road you're supposed to be on, you or a passenger screaming "fright, right" will set you on a proper course.
Automatic cars are not as common in Croatia as they are in Australia, so chances are you will be drawing on your skills with a clutch and gearstick. If you're not used to a manual car, this is probably not the time to learn.
This also applies to driving in Croatia more generally. Many travellers say that confidence is key on the narrow, winding Croatian roads.
One traveller also notes that locals use their horns not only as a warning but as a greeting to other drivers, so don't be alarmed if you hear enough car horns to make up the soundtrack of Special Victims Unit.
Generally speaking, roads around Zagreb and other main towns are of a good standard and have improved in recent years with the addition of new motorways between the larger cities. However regional areas can be a different story. Smaller roads are often unlit at night, so take extra caution when driving in the dark.
If you're planning to take your car onto the islands, you will need to take one of the many car ferries that run from the mainland. Ensure that you reserve your place on the ferry ahead of time, as on most services you can't just show up on the day. Some ferries enable you to book online but others you will need to book at a local ticket office.
Even if you're a good enough driver to give Schumacher a run for his money, be wary of your fellow motorists. Croatian drivers love to overtake, even on tight corners, and are renowned for taking a bit of artistic license with the speed limit.
Around the mountains, roads are very narrow and can sometimes only fit one car. Local drivers will try to pass you by, so just keep as close to your lane as possible.
Road accidents are common in Croatia. In 2009 there were more than three times as many road deaths in Croatia as in the UK per 100,000 of population.
According to some government travel advice, there have also been reports of gangs orchestrating roadside emergencies and then stealing from drivers who stop to help. If you do stop, ensure you remain in full view of passing traffic to minimise the risk of falling victim to such scams.
Many of the same road rules apply in Croatia as they do in other countries. Wear a seatbelt, keep your mobile phone in your backpack (it's illegal to use it while driving) and don't get behind the wheel if you've been sampling the local beverages.
But also be aware there are some laws that you may not be as used to. For instance, it is illegal to drive without headlights on during winter (late October-late March). It is also compulsory to carry a fluorescent vest in your car (not the boot) while driving, and to wear it when changing a tyre or attending to a breakdown.
If you get caught out on the road, emergency road help is provided by the Croatian Automobile Club (HAK) which has English speaking operators. Contact them on 987.
on the road
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