About driving in Poland
No overtaking, soft verges
1. You do it on the right.
2. You go around roundabouts anti-clockwise.
3. Drive defensively – the Poles believe any gap is enough for them to slot into or cross three lanes through.
4. Put your headlights on. Polish law requires that your headlights be on at all times (you can turn them off at the filling station, etc, though!) on dipped setting throughout the day.
Factoid – there’s no visible “road tax disc” in Poland. If you fill your tank, though, you just paid some. Here in Poland, road tax is built into the tax on petrol, diesel and LPG.
5. Insurance bought in Poland is usually by car, not by driver, so the assumption is that anyone will be covered driving the insured car of anyone else. Insurance can even carry over for some time after one person sells a car to another.
6. Papers – you need to keep the car insurance and registration document in the car and your driving licence on you (international driving licence if yours is not a standard EU licence).
7. Registration numbers – by the time you get to Kamionka Wielka you may well have figured some of this out. The first two or three letters indicate where the car is registered, so locally it’s KNS for Kraków, Nowy Sącz.
8. Fuel prices are much the same as anywhere else, but of course you’ll most likely pay less than you did at the autobahn service stations you filled up at on the way here.
9. Mobile phones – do not use them when you’re driving. Just don’t.
10. Drink driving – like most nations, Poles believe they drive better when drunk. See 3, above. The blood alcohol limits are low and the fines are high.
11. Overtaking. Unbroken lines down the middle of the road are “no-overtaking” lines. So be very careful when you overtake on them – you’ll be in trouble if caught, and maybe there’s a reason they are there … like a dip in the road, a blind corner, a school?
In town (indicated by a white sign with a black silhouette of an urban skyline) 50kph
In town, between 11pm and 6am 60kph
Open road 90kph
Note that on highways, where you are cruising along at 120kph, there may be signs reducing the llimit to 70kph. This is usually the case beside schools, approaching traffic lights, and sometimes at a pedestrian crossing.
12. Left lanes. Now, in most places you’ve driven, the left lane on a highway, dual carriageway, other main road with a central division (note, I’m not including the Polish motorways here) would be the fast lane. So it is in Poland … EXCEPT when it’s the left turn lane. Yes, a lot of Polish roads get around the cost of building tunnels and flyovers by simply dropping the barrier and making the left lane the one for traffic turning left, across the oncoming traffic, often without any form of traffic control. Who said the Polish don’t have a spirit of adventure?
Maluchs and other baby cars. Not a lot of people know that the Fiat 126 was produced here in Poland. From 1979, the Bielsko-Biała plant was the sole producer of these little rear-engined cars, until production ceased in 2000.
The Niewiadów N126 remains in production – 4-berth or 2-berth+wc
In total, Polish plants built over 3.3 million 126s, air-cooled originals and later water-cooled 126p Bis. Poland also produced, or produces, the Fiats Cinquecento, Seicento and Nuova 500 and the current Ford Ka at the Fiat plant in Tychy. (Did you know Fiat build Fords?)
But Poland also has home-made cars – no, not the much maligned Polski-Fiats and FSOs of the 1970s and 1980s, REAL home-made cars. You won’t see any in the cities, but keep an eye (and an ear) open for some real one-offs in rural areas.
And what does “Maluch” mean? “Little one” is as good a translation as we’re going to give you. “Little one” in the sense of “ah, isn’t it sweet”.
John had a red one a long time ago, which tried to kill him on a rain-slicked road. And which handled like a sledge in the snow – turn steering wheel, car carries straight on! And he had to go out and start it, then go back in doors to have a cup of coffee while it warmed up. And there was vastly more room for luggage on the back seat than there was in the boot. Boot, ha! Glorified glove compartment, more like! But still, today, they chug around Poland and they’re very popular with modifiers and rally enthusiasts as cheap entry cars.
13. Insurance write-offs. It’s occasionally headline news that Poles cross the border to Germany to buy written off quality brand cars and trailer them home to fix. There ARE some complete lemons, but Polish labour costs are a lot lower than they are in Germany and the people are a resourceful lot, so what was not economically repairable to a German insurer can be back on the road for a reasonable outlay in Poland. Note, this is NOT a recommendation to buy one. But having said that, the Cayenne John bought from a large reputable dealer outside London has required a ridiculous amount of work, which he could only afford because he had it done by a Polish mechanic. If you drove here, you will have seen write-offs being trailered in from Germany – we’d bet money on it.
14. Potholes and other distractions. If you came from the UK, Poland is probably better than what you’re used to. The country has spent a lot of money on infrastructure improvements since the fall of communism, and the roads received a big share. Having said that, though, Poland is a big country and some roads aren’t really up to the standard you would expect. For example, the road from the German border, via Katowice and Kraków and on eastwards is very good … until a bit beyond Kraków, where it switches from three lanes each way motorway to one lane each way … and that carries a LOT of lorries between western and Eastern Europe. (Incidentally, Poland = Central Europe). Likewise, the main highway from Kraków to Warsawa spends a lot of time as one lane each way, but at least you will be entertained by playing a game of “who can spot the Russian prostitute working along the roadside” as you go. (John got a warning from Trip Advisor for mentioning the working girls, but even the guy who complained admitted they are there, and they are pretty obvious.)
No overtaking – enjoy the scenery, don’t become part of it!
Away from the highways, roads will often be “smaller” that you are used to in your country, in a matching situation – one lane each way when you’d expect a three-laner, or even a dual carriageway – but they are OK. Not perfect, but OK. Watch the soft verges though; they will not only be soft, but also concealing a ditch.
15. Driving in winter. Fit winter tyres. Not all-season, WINTER. Then make sure you carry a torch, matches and candle, thermal blankets, water, biscuits … Check the lights on your car. It’s not that you will cause an accident, but in winter visibility can go from clear to zero, a foot of snow can fall in a few hours, another driver can have the accident you avoided, blocking the road … Chains are only permitted in extreme conditions – there’s often a sign at the bottom of a steep hill indicating chains are likely to be required in bad snow. (Note that the police can stop you if you have chains on when you ought not, and to put them on when you need them.)
16. Seat belts are compulsory, front and rear, while children under 12/1.5m must wear suitable restraints.
17. Fire extinguisher and first aid kit are optional, but a very, very good idea!
18. Tolls. The only toll highway you’re likey to touch on the way to the 1904 Loghouse (in Poland) is the A4, where the toll to drive from Katowice to Krakow is 18zl for a car. 18zl is about £4 – Poland is not France! There are also tolls on the A1 and A2, see http://www.highwaymaps.eu/poland The toll stretch on the A1 is up north, starting at Gdansk, while there’s a toll on the A2 from Berlin – Poznan – Łódź – Warsawa.
As we think of more points to add to this page, we’ll add them. JnR
We were out and about yesterday, doing a bit of mall-shopping, some Lidl shopping and cruising the Rynek.
On the way home I was conscious of trying to keep to the speed limit – more so than usual. Not sure why, I just was.
In the Cayenne – which is offically my car – we have the speedo in mph – though left-hand drive, it was originally exported to the USA – but we keep the dot matrix readout in kph.
Of course, we could set the cruise control, but that’s a nuisance on our windy roads.
And we also use our sat-nav even when we’re on a longer journey we do regularly, to keep an eye on limits – it does not know them all, but when it does, your speed goes red when you exceed the limit.
What we’re getting at is that if you bring an mph car over here you can use your sat-nav as a easy to check your kph speed and to keep an eye on speed limits.
The Policja have speed guns, and cameras are spreading, so get technology on your side.
Incidentally – because we hate people who do it, but you should know – undertaking is legal on 4-lane roads in built-up areas, 6-lane roads outside built-up areas and on one-way roads with marked lanes