Safe driving in Poland for foreign drivers

Welcome to Superjazda, a road safety and safe driving site run by a Polish defensive driving enthusiast, Wojtek Szajnert ("Superjazda" means “excellent driving” in Polish). Wojtek was the first person from Poland to complete the advanced driving course run by the Institute of Advanced Motorists (UK). He has also completed a number of other driving courses. 

If you are planning to drive in Poland, hopefully you will find these driving tips useful. If you have any questions, please ask them via the “Comments” section below and I will do my best to help. The article summarises key traffic regulations and the state of road infrastructure in Poland at the beginning of 2013.

Questions and comments are welcome. Based on the readers’ feedback I will look to improve this section so that it is as useful as possible. I will also be glad to get in touch with other advanced driving enthusiasts and websites.
Safe motoring, 

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Polish road regulations, including road signs, are broadly the same as everywhere in Europe (as all European countries have based their road law on the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic). The traffic in Poland, also similarly to most other European countries, is right-hand-side. There are a few differences and unique features though. 



Speed limits 
Some speed limits were changed in Poland at the beginning of 2011. The current limits are as follows: 
  • Motorway: 140 km/h 
  • Double-carriageway expressway: 120 km/h 
An expressway sign.
An expressway is similar to
motorway, it is only
of slightly lower standard.













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  • Single-carriageway expressway and normal double-carriageway: 100 km/h 
  • Single-carriageway: 90 km/h 
  • Built-up area: 50 km/h between 5am-11pm and 60 km/h between 11pm-5am. 
Built-up area sign









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  • Home zone: 20 km/h 
Home zone sign








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Speed limits (and also ‘no overtaking’ and a few other signs) are cancelled either by a cancellation sign, a crossed speed limit/crossed no overtaking sign or by a junction. 


Sign cancelling all previous prohibitions









Right of way 
If there are no road signs regulating right of way at an intersection, generally speaking the vehicle approaching from the right-hand side has priority. This does not apply to the rare situations when you meet a tram at such an intersection – in this case the tram is going to have priority.

The same applies to three-lane roads where two vehicles want to simultaneously enter the middle lane from the inside and outside lanes – in such situations you are supposed to give way to those on the right.

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Be very careful with cyclists, not only because of common sense, but also because the regulations introduced in 2011 which have introduced extra protection for them. From 2011, on cycle crossings cyclists have priority from the moment they start approaching the crossing, so before they actually enter the road. When you drive a car and intend to turn right, you must give way to a cyclist going straight, regardless of whether they come from the opposite direction or they are moving in the same direction as you.


Cycle crossing sign










Headlights
The use of dipped headlights or daytime running lights is obligatory at all times of the day and year.

If you are coming in your own car from a country with left-hand traffic, make sure to buy special light-deflecting stickers for your headlights as otherwise you will glare oncoming drivers.

Seatbelts 
All car passengers must wear seatbelts at all times, and children up to the age of 12 or the height of 150 cm must be seated in appropriate child seats or booster seats. The only exception is for vehicles which do not have seatbelts and for pregnant women.

Green filter arrow 
On some crossroads with traffic lights, a small green arrow is displayed simultaneously with a red signal. It means “you may turn right provided that you first stop at the stop line and give way to pedestrians and then give way to traffic on the road you are entering”. Once you have given way to pedestrians and other traffic, you may proceed. In practice most drivers only slow down and do not stop, but remember that when you see a green arrow, usually a green signal is displayed for pedestrians at the same time!
Green filter arrow










“Arrow” traffic lights 
They are used at more complex junctions. If a green “arrow” (also called “directional”) light is displayed, it means that the way in that direction is free from any other traffic (which is then stopped at red lights) and you can go. 


Traffic lights allowing
to proceed only in the
direction shown










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Roundabouts 
Unfortunately, there are no clear rules in Polish regulations regarding driving on roundabouts. This results in various methods being employed by drivers and even by the police in particular parts of the country. However, if you make sure that you always leave the roundabout from the outside lane, indicating right before you exit, you should always be safe. Of course, look at road markings as they may sometimes impose a different course of action. 

Obligatory vehicle equipment 
Your vehicle only needs to be equipped with a fire extinguisher and a warning triangle, and of course be in an acceptable technical condition.

Road courtesy standards
The level of road courtesy is, unfortunately, poor in Poland. Some drivers will of course be friendly and helpful, but generally speaking, be prepared to encounter a fair amount of aggression on the road. It is not as bad as in some other post-communist countries, and improving, but the problem remains. The best thing you can do is be extra careful at all times and never make yourself dependent on somebody else’s courtesy. 

Polish drivers are, unfortunately, in the habit of speeding even in the most risky places, such as the vicinity of schools or pedestrian areas. They are not very tolerant of drivers who want to obey speed limits, either, and will often tailgate and try to pressurize them to speed up. 

If you are being tailgated, do what always works: let the tailgater pass as soon as you can; if this is not possible, add at least one second to your forward gap.

Apart from speed limits, other rules that are often ignored by Polish drivers are those related to overtaking: you will quite frequently see vehicles (including lorries) overtaking on double white lines and in other places where it is prohibited, dangerous or unreasonable, such as pedestrian crossings or junctions. You really have to be extra careful and make allowances for that. It is best to assume that other drivers may overtake pretty much everywhere, so be prepared to move out of their way.

Other rules, such as right of way, or parking, are usually adhered to, at least to the extent typical of other European countries. 

Roads
Poland has few motorways and double-carriageways. Many major roads go through the middle of towns or cities as there are few bypasses. Traffic on most roads is usually quite dense. If you want to travel more than 300-400 kilometres, it might make more sense to take a train, because travelling by car can take a lot of time (if you generally obey speed limits and take breaks every couple of hours, the average speed at such distances will be in the region of 60 km/h). If there are no motorways or expressways around and you have sat nav, it may be better to use minor roads – much nicer (views/sightseeing) and sometimes also quicker thanks to less intense traffic.

In general the condition of Polish roads is acceptable, some roads may just be less comfortable to drive on. Only the signposting is often poor. Excessive speed limits, ignored by 99% of drivers, are the biggest problem.

Railway crossings
On local minor roads, it is quite normal to encounter open railway crossings without barriers or lights. Obviously you have to stop at these to check if the train is not coming!

Many big cities use trams as a means of public transport. They have to be treated just like trains – you must give way to them in practically all situations.

Other issues related to driving in Poland
From October to the end of March it is highly advisable to use winter tyres, as you may encounter snow in this period. Snow is usually removed from major roads (and melted away with salt) within a few hours after it stops falling. However minor roads may be covered with snow for as many as several days after snowfall. Usually the most snowy months are December, January and February.

Car theft has fallen very significantly in the past 10 years but still standard safety rules apply. In urban areas it is risky to, for example, leave your car with valuables inside, or leave it for the night in an unguarded car park – foreign number plates may attract car thieves.

The traffic police officers are usually focussed on speeding and drink driving, but of course other obvious offences such as driving through red lights will also end in a fine. 

The highest fine one can pay is equivalent to approx. EUR 300 (not including criminal offences which may end in much more serious consequences). 

The maximum blood alcohol level that is legal in Poland is below 0.2‰. From 0.2‰ onwards you are facing serious consequences if caught, and from 0.5‰ – a court case, so it is better not to drink at all if you are planning to drive.

27 komentarzy:

  1. Hi What are the speed limits if towing a trailer

    chris.kawik@tersusgroup.co.uk

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  2. Hi Chris, thanks for visiting the site. The Polish speed limits for a car towing a trailer are:
    - in built-up areas, 50 kph between 5am-11pm and 60 kph between 11pm-5am (the same as the general speed limit in the built-up area)
    - outside built-up areas on single-carriageways: 70 kph
    - on all motorways, all expressways and all double-carriageways: 80 kph.

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  3. Hi. I am an Australian citizen travelling to Poland. Can I legally drive in Poland using the Australian Driver's licence, or am I required to get an International Driving License?

    plutekplutek@hotmail.com

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  4. Hi there

    Your Australian driving licence is NOT valid in Poland, however if you obtain a so-called "international driving licence" then you will be able to drive legally here.

    Here is a source to a Polish governmental document on that (use Google Translate): http://www.powroty.gov.pl/faq/formalnosci_po_powrocie/662.html

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  5. witam
    jak wyglada sprawa oznakowania Polskich drog glownych np.katowice-krakow-zakopane czy sa dobrze pokazane kierunki jazdy,czy mozna zgobic kierunek docelowy przyjezdzajac przez wieksze miasta
    z gory dzieki za odpowiedz
    pozdrawiam
    krzysztof

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  6. Cześć. Akurat na tym kierunku nie powinieneś mieć większych problemów (chociaż droga na Zakopane jest w większości miejsc w Krakowie oznakowana "Chyżne"). Natomiast oznakowanie w wielu miastach jest złe i możliwość zgubienia kierunku istnieje.

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  7. czesc
    dzieki za odpowiedz, jeszcze male pytanie czy system GPS w ktory wyposazone sa auta z polskich wypozyczalni moze nam pomoc i w jakim stopniu?przepraszam ale nie wiem co znaczy "chyze"?dzeki z gory za odpowiedz.pozdrawiam
    krzysztof

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  8. Mam nadzieję, że nie żartujesz sobie?
    "Chyzne" - czyli miejscowość niedaleko od Zakopanego, w ktorej jest przejscie graniczne. Wiekszosc drogowskazow w Krakowie prowadzi wlasnie na "Chyzne", na Zakopane pojawiaja się dopiero kilkadziesiat km na poludnie od Krakowa.

    Co do nawigacji GPS, to oczywiscie kazda poprawnie doprowadzi Cie do Zakopanego.

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  9. Hello Wojtek,
    I am a Brit. and have been visiting Poland since 1988. I have now lived here for the last 10 years. I have seen the change in conditions on the roads over the years as drivers have graduated from fiat 126's to BMW's and agree with all you say about the standard of Polish driving. I have travelled and driven all over the world but have yet to find less courtious drivers anywhere. In general they are impatient and rude especially if they have to wait to pass, their only mission seems to be to get in front of the next vehicle. They seem to be completely oblivious to speed limits or in fact any road signs. Signalling for turns are either left until the turn is started or not at all. etiquette is not a word in the Polish driver's vocabulary.
    Last week I was fined 400 zl when a driver who was trying to overtake me as I was turning left hit my vehicle. The police said that as I was changing lane it was my fault even though I had been signalling left long before the driver started to overtake me.
    In short, the driving standard here is abismal and I am surprised that there are not more deaths on the roads here. Driving is most certainly not a pleasure in Poland

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  10. Hi Michael,

    Thanks for getting in touch. We are in full agreement here. What can I say? The only upside is that drivers' habits here are changing slowly and I believe that in 10 years from today we will be living and driving in a much different environment. For the time being, the best we can do is try and accurately predict the behaviour of other drivers and adapt our driving to that.

    There is a saying in the advanced driving community that there are drivers who cause accidents, drivers who have accidents caused by others and drivers who don't have accidents at all. It is best to belong to the third group but it requires a special mindset. Don't care who's right or wrong in a given situation (like in the indicator situation you had) - just do your best not to have an accident. It works in Poland and everywhere else.

    Hope you get more fun out of your driving, even in Poland. It's possible!

    Best regards

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  11. Hello,
    Michael - regarding your accident, I assume that you were changing carriageway on dual carriageway road. In that case you are always have to give way to cars on the left. I agree that speeding is major problem in Poland - but the speed limit are often irrational - 70km/h speed limits are common on dual carriageways. If you are looking for not so courteous drivers - try driving anywhere outside of Europe (e.g South East Asia, India) or even Italy. The real problems are heavy traffic and cars in poor mechanical condition. And be careful of drivers in old VV Golf and Audi 80 - favorite cars of crazy teenagers.
    Regards,
    Rafal

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  12. Hello,

    I am a resident of Malta and will be visiting Poland in May and intend t hire a care. Is my Maltese driving license valid. We from part of the EU.

    Regards,

    Charmaine

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  13. Please use www.Google.com :). I don't answer all kinds of questions, only those related to road regulations and safe driving.

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  14. Hi I found your blog very useful and well written. i am going to be driving in Poland at the end of this month. I took a trip from Wroclaw to Krakow several years ago and really enjoyed the drive on two short stretches of highway: one to Katowice and the other toll highway, from Katowice to Krakow. The major traffic issues we encountered were in Upper Silesia district, since there was no through highway there and we ended up driving through all bunch of cities before getting on the toll highway. I know there were plans to build there to avoid this highly congested region and wonder if this has been completed.
    Thank you
    Matt

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  15. Hi Matt. Yes, the entire motorway (it is the A4) is completed, from Wrocław, through Upper Silesia, to Krakow. So this time you will be able to avoid getting lost in the Katowice region :).

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  16. Hi Wojtek, your blog is really useful. can i ask you something? i drive not quite often in Germany.for work i need to go to Poland during euro 2012. in your opinion, is that possible to drive? are the roads, direction boards are now better for euro?
    Thank you so much.

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  17. Hi there. Of course it is possible to drive and it will be during the Euro too. You can expect some traffic congestion in the cities organising the games on the days of the game but apart from that, the roads are absolutely driveable. I know that from the German perspective they may seem poor :) but there is nothing to be worried about.

    On the other hand, the direction boards have not improved so it makes sense to use sat nav. With sat nav you should be absolutely fine.

    Please note that some roads are going to be opened just before the Euro (e.g. some parts of the A2 motorway). So it also makes sense to have an up to date map and consult the map here: http://www.2012.org.pl/przewodnik-mieszkanca/transport-w-polce/transport-drogowy.html (in blue - completed major roads which are recommended for EURO 2012 guests; in green - the recommended routes between major roads).

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  21. Hello Wojtek
    I will be driving in Poland for the first time soon and your site is the most helpful one I have I have found.
    I am picking up an Avis car at Warsaw Chopin and heading North east to Ostrow Mazowiecka. I had hoped to fly to Modlin but now that is closed I have to start off by driving across Warsaw!
    I don't usually use satnav but I bought one specially for this trip and have run through the route it is proposing. Either it is much more up to date than my Michelin paper map or it taking me across some fields!
    I am a reasonably experienced driver but I must say some of the things I have read make me quite apprehensive. Are there any more preparations I can make, apart from hiring a tank. Should I taking lots of cash to pay fines imposed for speeding while being pushed by a 38 tonne lorry?
    Thanks for all the work you have done on this.
    Kind regards
    Mike C


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  22. Mike

    I think there's much less to worry about than you think. The bad reputation that Polish roads have abroad results from what was going on here 10-15 years ago, but now driving in Poland has become a lot safer. It's still not excellent but certainly nothing to panic about. ALso driving in Warsaw should not more difficult that driving in any big city, like London or Paris. Signposting is sometimes poor but if you have satnav, it should make things easy. Trust the satnav - they've built quite a few new roads in Poland over the past 3-4 years. Probably that's why your Michelin map doesn't cover them - it's just out of date.

    No need to take any money for speeding fines - such horror stories might have been true 10 years ago, but they aren't anymore.

    regards
    Wojtek

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    1. Many thanks Wojtek

      I will send you a report when I get home.

      Mike

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    2. No problems. Please do! Always interesting to hear opinions written from a different point of view.

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