Driving in Malta: Road Trip Safety Tips for Travelers

Malta's main island has a reputation for bad roads and terrible driving. Find out how to stay safe while taking a road trip with these tips from our travel safety expert.

An aerial view of a winding road shaped as a letter S in the north of Malta Photo © Getty Images/Felix Cesare

They're only small islands with ridiculously narrow streets, but car ownership is high, so it's a challenge.

Locals are only half joking when they say, "We neither drive on the left nor the right, we drive in the shade."

Organized chaos

Even those who have a kind word to say about the crazy, stuntman-like driving can only go so far as "organized chaos". Those who've been to Bangkok or Cairo will understand… drivers make their own way, any way, they can, and the horn is the favored safety device (hear it and expect anything to happen).

Don't be surprised to see donkeys and horse-drawn carts sharing the roads with cars, trucks, and buses. Don't be surprised to see tiny cars carrying huge loads. Conforming to bureaucratic dictate is not a Maltese characteristic (and OH&S is routinely ignored).

Malta's National Statistics Office reported that in the first quarter of 2017, 3,508 traffic accidents occurred, down by 5.6% compared to the first quarter of 2016. Unfortunately, six people lost their lives.

Having said that, Malta has the least number of fatalities by population and the least number of fatalities per million passenger cars of any European nation.

Road safety campaigns and tougher licensing requirements are improving standards. There are even speed cameras on the main island!

Take a day or two to observe local driving habits before picking up a hire car.

Road rules

Once you feel brave enough here are a few rules to observe:

  • Drive on the left
  • The urban speed limit is 30mi/h (50km/h), 50mi/h (80km/h) on the few short stretches of open road
  • Everyone in the vehicle must wear a seatbelt
  • Drivers cannot use a mobile phone while driving
  • The drink/driving limit is low at .035, which, depending on gender and body weight, is one standard drink
  • Headlights must be on at all times
  • You must stop for all public transport, including school buses, when passengers are alighting.

Public transport

Malta's colorful buses are a great way to get around the country.

There was a time, when it was difficult and expensive to get vehicles onto the islands, that all the buses were old, held together with string and brown paper and virtual death-traps (albeit with icons of the Virgin Mary or Christ keeping an eye on the passengers). Modern, safer buses are being introduced, but authorities are trying to retain the ‘retro' look that has become synonymous with Malta.

Still, the roads remain narrow, the surface potholed, and the owner-drivers in a rush to keep to the timetable. Just hang on tight, and keep children secure.

Crossing madness

Malta holds on to many traditions from its past as a British colony, such as red phone boxes, and driving on the left – why not the venerable zebra crossing?

The particularly British practice of giving way to anyone who even looks like they're contemplating stepping onto a pedestrian crossing is totally absent in Malta. Crossing the road, especially in congested Valetta, can be a life-altering experience. Don't expect, or give any quarter! Keep your wits about you, your eyes open, and your travel insurance policy close to your chest.

If you're after a car-free holiday, head to Comino, the smallest inhabited island in Malta – there are no cars at all.

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  • TheGreenPick said

    Ahh, its not so bad I think, we felt quite ok once you experience any kind of tiny mountain roads in Europe or elsewhere ..but indeed in hot sunny days with everyone seemingly in a rush can be a bit stressful=)

  • L. said

    Yes, traffic in Malta is an organized chaos, but several parts of the article are just not true or not true anymore.
    - Alcohol limit is not 0.035, it's 0.08, but noone cares, so drunk driving is a "normal" thing.
    - Headlights are not compulsory, they don't use them during the day(sometimes not even at night).
    - I've never seen anyone stop for buses when alighting.

    On the other hand:
    - Crossing the road is really easy, people even stop to let you even when there is no crossing.
    - Valletta has very little traffic since it's a regulated zone, any other parts of the islands will have serios queues during peak times.
    - Buses are not colorful anymore, they are modern, but it's still an organized chaos how they work, but still better than driving if you're not used to chaos :) But to be fair, travel speeds are quite low, so it's not that bad, I quite enjoy driving in Malta, just don't expect people to follow the rules.

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