Driving for many is a normal part of every day, it’s not something you tend to give much thought to. However, anyone who’s driven while abroad/on holiday knows driving in another land is not so simple!
As with many of my other posts, I’ll start by being clear on what this post is and isn’t about. Firstly it’s not going to be a breakdown of all the rules/regulations, there are already some other good pages that cover in depth the rules/laws such as this one here. What I do want to talk about is what it’s actually like driving there, if you went to Rome, no amount of reading of the rules/regulations will describe what it’s like.
The first and most obvious difference is driving on the opposite side to the UK, and this is probably the things that worries people the most. I’ve spent enough time driving in other countries that this doesn’t really bother me, but I can understand how it’s a barrier for some. Having driven both my own car and rentals, there’s something to be said for renting a car and having the controls on the ‘correct’ side for the road you’re on. If nothing else, the location of the gear stick/selector is a good constant reminder you’re somewhere else and extra attention needs to be paid. During the day when there are plenty of other cars around, it’s much easier as there are constant reminders of where you should be, but on quiet roads you do need to pay that little bit more care, especially around things like T-junctions. Most, if not all roundabouts I’ve seen in Poland guide you nicely to the direction of the roundabout, so it would be pretty hard to end up going the wrong way round!
Moving onto more specific things I’ve found about Poland, speed limits are one. Firstly, the upper limit on motorways is higher than in the UK (140KPH/87MPH), and so if you find a good route mostly motorway, you can make good progress (Note – That’s a lot harder than it sounds). However, if you stray from major roads, one thing that always gets me is that the speed limit constantly changes, and I mean more often than you will ever expect. While here in the UK the speed limit is exactly that, a limit and it may be unsafe to drive at that speed (e.g. national speed limit backroads), it seems in Poland they lower the limit for bends/hazards. This makes a lot of sense, especially for people who don’t know the road or are driving at night etc, although for things like side roads/houses etc it’s not always an obvious hazard, so you do need to pay attention to the limit even if it’s a straight bit of road. Note – Do not rely on a Sat Nav for the speed limit, I’ve found these particularly inaccurate in Poland and there are plenty of police radar traps. The last speed limit related item is the built up area signs, which carry a variable (night/day) speed limit, so something to watch for and easy to miss.
Regarding driving etiquette/standards, on average I haven’t found it much worse than the UK, although there certainly are differences. The most notable is that in the UK there’s a general reluctance to overtake, regardless of how safe it may be. However, in Poland that’s not the case, but if anything it swings the other way and you see some ‘interesting’ overtakes! There’s a lot of connecting single carriageway roads, so people get used to overtaking, or there’d be one big queue everywhere. The traffic related death rate is lower than average in Europe (according to Wikipedia at time of writing), but it is higher than the UK. I wouldn’t be surprised if this isn’t partly down to road state rather than anything else, many of the connecting single carriageway roads are lined with big old trees, not very forgiving if something does go wrong. Speaking of road state, there’s an ever increasing amount of large, multilane motorways and the major routes are becoming much better connected (Some of these do have tolls). There are still a lot of busy routes that do not have new/large roads, and these can be a bit hit or miss. This is definitely something to consider when planning visits/travel in Poland, as it may take longer to get somewhere than you’d think looking at a map. But as I said, there’s a huge amount on infrastructure investment happening and in the 10 years I’ve been vising Poland it’s improved massively.
Lastly, while not strictly about the act of driving in Poland, I wanted to mention the Fiat 126p (or Maluch), as you’ll see these a lot while in Poland. Historically these are interesting cars for Poland (a topic for another day), I’ve found they’re met with either a sigh, followed by a comment about how bad they were, or a response of proud nostalgia. For better or worse, they’re certainly something I associate with Poland, and I always like seeing them on my travels there.