There are many who claim Poland is one of the worst places for car drivers in Europe (although, sadly, there's a lot of competition for the dubious title). The country has some of the worst roads and large numbers of drivers who do not meet accepted European norms in terms of driving skills.
There has been a substantial increase in the number of cars on Polish roads. And yes, Polish roads are generally of a very poor quality however the major highways tend to be in good condition and maintained.
Driving, especially after dark, is hazardous. Roads are generally narrow, poorly lighted, frequently under repair (especially in the summer months), and are often also used by pedestrians and cyclists.
Driving may be difficult also due to large trucks, Poland is a major east-west transit route for heavy vehicles, which has done wonders for the quality of the road surface!
Slow moving agricultural vehicles (and horse dawn vehicles) are common in rural areas, even on main roads.
Renting a vehicle is a great way to get around and see what Poland has to offer but there are some things to consider before hitting the open road.
Check that your rental car has a warning triangle, fire extinguisher and reflective jacket. Hefty on the spot fines can be issued if you do not have these essential items with you.
Expect delays - long delays - during summer on the roads leading to the major tourist destinations, like Gdansk, Zakopane or Lake district.
You must carry original vehicle-registration papers, ownership documents and insurance papers at all times. This is a legal requirement. They will be asked for if you are stopped by the police and, in particular, when crossing borders. If you do not have these papers when stopped by the police they have the right to impound your vehicle and charge you for this.
If you have valuables in your car, do take them with you, or park in paid guarded lots to be sure they are safe. There are many cases of breaking into cars, especially in most popular summer resorts, like Gdansk or Sopot.
There had been cases of vehicles with foreign number plates being stopped by gangs posing as policemen, particularly in rural and tourist areas such as the Polish lake district, but fortunately not recently.
Also, pay close attention to anyone indicating you should pull over or that something is wrong with your car; you should drive until you find a safe place, like a gas station or supermarket to check whether there is actually a problem with your car.
There also have been incidents of thieves opening or breaking passenger-side doors and windows in slow or stopped traffic to take purses or briefcases left on the seat beside the driver. This is more common in Warsaw or Gdansk, where traffic is really bad.
Never drink and drive in Poland! There is zero tolerance for driving under the influence of alcohol. The blood alcohol limit while driving is 0.02. If you drive and have been drinking (even 1 unit of alcohol) you can be charged. Offenders can be imprisoned for up to two years. Alcohol consumption is frequently a contributing factor in accidents.
If an accident results in injury or death, penalties for drivers involved are severe, and can include imprisonment from six months to eight years or, in the case of drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs, up to twelve years.
You must drive with your headlights on at all times, day and night.
Seat belts are compulsory in both the front and back seats, and children under the age of 10 are prohibited from riding in the front seat.
Use of cellular phones while driving is prohibited, except for "hands-free" models. The fine for violating laws against the use of mobile phone while driving is significant. If you need to use your mobile phone while on the road, stop your car in a designated parking area and make your call.
Should you unfortunately breakdown or end up in a traffic incident, call 112. This service is available across Europe, with English speaking operators who will put you in touch with emergency services in Poland, if your Polish speaking skills are a bit rusty.
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