Polish driving skills – or lack of them!

With more than ten years experience of driving in Poland, twice as long driving outside Poland and having driven in perhaps half the countries of Europe as well as the USA, I feel reasonably qualified to comment on driving, at least from a personal perspective.

Jamie’s odd picture and some recent comments prompted me to check if we had ever done a comprehensive post about Polish driving skills and it seems we haven’t, so here it is.

Make no bones about it there are many good drivers in Poland, the trouble is that there are at least as many bad ones and some of them are terrifyingly bad. There are bad drivers everywhere, of course, and many continental types are renowned for their erratic, free-flowing, obeying no rules style but even amidst all that craziness they do still conform to a pattern and once you understand that pattern you can go with the flow and be reasonably safe getting across Paris, Rome or Istanbul. What makes Polish drivers stand out as being particularly scary is a combination of speed, unpredictability, fragile control of the vehicle and a very healthy disregard for anyone else on or close to the road. Because of this, the only way to drive relatively safely in Poland is to assume everyone else is just about to do something extremely stupid. This is not a foolproof method, but it definitely helps.

For anyone thinking of giving it a try we’ve come up with our ten good reasons why not to drive in Poland unless you absolutely have no choice – or enjoy extreme sports. Not in any order of priority, they are

1/ Unable to miss a turn – I only recently found out that it is actually illegal to miss your turn in Poland. Prisons are full of people serving 10 to life for ‘recklessly missing a turning’ and so it is that rather than miss their turning, many drivers prefer to just stop dead in whatever lane they happen to be in when they realise they are about to miss their turn and then cut across the moving traffic to make sure they get to it. Obviously, the safe thing to do is to is to go past your turning then find a safe way to get back to it. There’s no mechanical or physical reason why people have to behave this way, it’s all in their head. Something in their head is telling them that it is better to make two extremely dangerous manoeuvres (stopping suddenly and then moving in an odd direction across lanes of moving traffic) than to miss their turn. If anyone can explain how that logic works I’d be glad to be enlightened.

2/ Mirror – signal – manoeuvre – There is no such thing in Poland. In Poland the correct form is ‘signalmanoeuvre’, that being one swift movement of switching the indicator and turning the wheel at the same time. Again, no physical or mechanical problem here just the deep-rooted knowledge that as long as they have indicated then they have the right to manoeuvre. Anyone behind them can f*** right off because they’ve indicated so it won’t be their fault if there’s an accident – everyone knows the person rear-ending is to blame, right?!

3/ Lane switching disease – Another little understood law in Poland is the one that prohibits staying in the same lane for more then 10 seconds. I’m in two minds about the root cause of this one, is it a simple matter of speed and getting from A-B in what they think is a faster time or is it a matter of getting one over the idiots who don’t change lanes and trying to impress with their high-speed lane-switching display? Whatever the reason, lane switching is a rampant disease in Poland. Fast or slow moving traffic makes no difference, the more times you change lane the better you’re going to feel. You might argue that there’s nothing wrong with changing lanes. I would argue that every single unnecessary manoeuvre you make increases the risk of an accident, whether it be hitting another car, losing control or taking out a motorbike. There are times when you should change lanes, of course, but they account for less than 5% of total lane switches in Poland, the rest are pure lunacy.

4/ Keeping an appropriate distance – There are times when you can’t see too far ahead. There are also times when the people in front do silly things, like braking so they won’t miss their turn. It makes a certain amount of sense then to leave some distance between you and the car in front to allow you time to react and brake/manoeuvre. I’ll confess to not leaving enough myself, scientifically speaking, but I will generally stay back between 1-3 car lengths, just in case. In Poland this is not viewed as safe driving but as a weakness of character. I’m obviously a big fat pussy who deserves to have a couple of lane-switchers shove themselves into the space I’ve left between me and the guy in front. If I were a slow, ultra-safe driver I’d understand this but I’m not, and I don’t.

5/ I’m in the right -I won’t go on about this too much because it is in the Polish DNA. If a Polish driver has the right of way then they are going to take it at whatever speed they like irrespective of what might happen because if something does happen, it won’t be their fault.

6/ Drivers that are “only just” in control of the car – If you need examples of this just drive around Warsaw on any weekend you like. Armies of drivers who have just enough skill to control the car in the simplest of ways in the hope that nothing too complicated happens. I swear, if you ran up to one of them and shouted “Boo!” they’d accelerate and smash the car into the nearest tree. Cannot for the life of me understand this. Most Poles I know had to take their test a minimum of 5 times, often considerably more, before they were given a license. What the f*** are they teaching people all this time? When you’re driving a car at least 75% of your mental and physical capacity should be focused on exactly that. I get the impression that for many drivers in Poland that figures is well below 50%, the rest of them is somewhere else entirely.

7/ Buses, trams, TIR – There are a lot of them in Poland. They all hate car drivers and car drivers, me included, all hate them. This leads to problems.

8/ No respect – blocking junctions, pushing in – For the pushing in, try driving into town any weekday morning on wisłostrada between most Gdański and Sanguszki. There are three lanes going straight ahead and one dedicated for people turning right up Sanguszki. I, stupidly, stay in the right hand of the three normal lanes because I’m heading for a right turn at Śląsko-Dąbrowski. This takes me considerably longer than it should because of the stream of imbecilic, mindless, lazy, arrogant, pig-headed, f***-wits charging down the Sanguszki turn lane and then just shoving (signalmanoeuvre style) in to my lane at the last minute. I don’t know who I’m more pissed-off at, those pushing in, those letting them in or me for doing it properly. If you need a more dramatic example, try the wisłostrada heading north at home-time and the queue trying to cross the river on Grota-Roweckiego. At some points you have no less than FIVE lanes full of people trying to out-push-in each other to get into the ONE lane that actually goes where they want to go. This lemming-like display of total stupidity eventually blocks both lanes of the wisłostrada heading north past the bridge as well as every bridge turning meaning all traffic leaving Warsaw is at a standstill. Remains to be seen whether the new north bridge will improve this or just move the same problem further north. If you need examples of blocking junctions just follow a bus or tram anywhere you like or check out the cars at Rondo ONZ or the junction of Prosta and Żelazna. This is not a rare occurrence, it happens every day without fail, people who cannot be arsed to wait for the lights to change again just keep moving and end up stationary in the middle of the junction preventing people going the other way from moving at all. If you want examples of no respect just drive anywhere at any time. One thing you can be sure of with Polish driving is that nobody gives a shit about you.

9/ State of the roads -Lame excuse that might, at a stretch, account for less than 5% of accidents but it is true that the roads are (STILL) in a terrible condition. Of course, drivers are supposed to moderate their driving according to the road and weather conditions that prevail. They don’t. They drive like they’re on very flat, very wide, pothole free German Autobahns on a dry day with great visibility.

10/ Lack of enforcement – Of course the bottom line is that nothing’s going to change here without there being punishment for doing things wrong. What the Polish police enjoy is using the speed radar guns, that’s about all they know how to do. It’s fun, it pisses people off, it brings in the cash. I can count the number of times I’ve seen them doing anything else to improve driving habits on one finger. I don’t want it to get to the ridiculous state of affairs we have in the UK now but there’s a middle ground that I think we need to find sooner rather than later.

Now, I know exactly what you’re all thinking:

FOREIGNER – “Spot on. I couldn’t agree more!”

POLE – “There goes another arrogant foreigner trying to tell us we can’t drive. They don’t know what they’re talking about, bloody idiots!! I’ve seen some terrible driving in England. If you don’t like our driving then go home!!”

So, to all the Poles who are about to comment on how good a driver they are and how shitty the drivers are in the UK and how stupid driving on the left is you need to know that, whilst I’m happy to believe that you personally might be a good driver and cannot be accused of any of the ten things above you will NEVER convince me that Poles are good drivers or even better drivers that Brits – on the whole – so don’t waste your time trying.

Face facts, it’s not just me that has this opinion as the comments on this post will no doubt prove. Type “Polish driver” into Google and what you get is a long list of places to go and read about bad driving and deaths – like THIS and THIS and THIS and THIS. Admittedly, the Daily Mail appears to have it in for Polish drivers but I suppose something got them started down that road. That was after a whole minute of searching by the way.

How about a nice simple graphic like the 2008 statistics of road deaths per million inhabitants? Dark blue is the worst colour, the most deaths. Only two countries qualify for that, Poland and Romania and of those two, Poland is the worst! For all those about to post comments in defence of Polish driving skills please explain what else it is that gives Poland the worst record in the entire EU?

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46 thoughts on “Polish driving skills – or lack of them!

  1. Foreigner says:

    Spot on. I couldn’t agree more!

  2. Pole says:

    Spot on. I couldn’t agree more!

    IMO the two biggest problems are:

    1. Any idiot can become a driving teacher in Poland. All you need is a driving license and being 21yo (if i remember right).

    2. There is a lot of corruption in driving schools and probably 30% of the Polish drivers have a “fake” driving license.

  3. bob says:

    scatts – you are spot on. Have been driving in Poland for over 20 years and couldn’t agree more. However you left out at least some key elements.

    The concept of ‘MERGING’ – Poles do not get it. Ever try to merge onto a lane of slow moving traffic and have the others do anything possible to attempt to thwart your attempt at doing so? Happens every day, there is no sense of common courtesy when it comes to this.

    Fortunately I learned to drive in New York and spent 4 years driving in central London and have mastered the concept, I call it the ‘creep’ it is almost like setting a pick in basketball – get the nose of your car out slowly but assertively so the other guy has only 2 choices – let you in or hit you then wave a ‘thanks’ when you are successful – often the ‘mergee’ is fuming that you were able to sneak in.

    Another thing is on many roads like the road to Gdansk, people take a 2 lane road and make it a 4 lane road with passing across the double white lines or dashed lines and make it a game of chicken.

    Another future post could describe the habits of pedestrians in Poland and how long it takes them to make a foot crossing on the crosswalks – very timid souls who wait and wait until there is no traffic for a thousand yards in either direction to make the brave attempt to cross (maybe a good practice sometimes but snail-like)

    Bike paths are another – the Poles don’t get that concept either – they are usually filled with walkers, people with prams and the odd tot on a tricycle. It is like riding on an obstacle course. Use your bell and instead of moving to the right (or leaving the path) as the custom would be they scatter in all directions (or stop dead and look around for the source of the sound) and one feels like an errant bowling ball hurtling down the lane at a set of moving pins.

  4. Another Pole says:

    I agree. I don’t have recent first hand experience, because I have been living in the U.S. for a few years now, but it was as bad as you describe. I saw road rage. I saw speeding. I saw the Police taking petty bribes, and hence letting the offenders go on until they kill themselves or someone else.

    However, I do not think it is in the genes. I blame the Police for taking bribes, and for not enforcing rules. The Police taught careless and reckless drivers that what they do is ok. They pay 50zł and off they go.

    Those lanes for turning right being used by “smart-ass” drivers to gain a few hundred meters? Put a camera there, or a cop, or block them off.

    Those bandits who sit on your back, and flash their lights when you are passing other cars, but are only doing the speed limit? I don’t know what to do about them. Maybe put more cameras and pick them out.


    I saw some road rage and rude driving in the U.S. too. I think all people are prone to it when stuck in traffic, or when trying to make up time, but the consequences are very different in the U.S. – nobody even thinks of bribing a policeman.

    About speeding. In most states in the U.S. where I was driving people go slightly over the speed limit – maybe up to 10-15 miles per hour on a highway. The only exception that I saw was New Mexico. They have signs there that warn about a new speed limit coming up ahead, and people actually observe those signs: they slow down to let’s say 55 mph way before the 55mph sign. It was strange at first, but I got used to it.

    I also drove in Australia. Speed limits are strictly enforced by cameras there. 100 km/h means exactly that. Nobody drives faster.

    I believe people in Poland can learn to be polite on the road and not kill themselves and others in such large numbers, but to do that somebody has to change the system. Either replace all of the Polish state troopers – “drogówka” with new not corrupted people, or introduce cameras and a system that issues tickets and penalty points automatically, revokes licenses, and puts offenders in jail, where they belong.

  5. zarazek says:

    I’m not a driver but I think I’d find it quite terrifying to drive in Poland.
    I was once almost killed by a lunatic in Warsaw while crossing a street: all cars had stopped at red light but, when I was about to get on the pavement on the other site of the street, this idiot came from my right hand side, driving partly on the pavement and partly on the street.
    I’d never experienced anything like that before and hope I’ll never happen to me again.

    So yeh, spot on, I couldn’t agree more :)

  6. Malcolm says:

    You forgot to mention the crazy pedestrians and Vodka,

  7. Steve says:

    I agree with your detailed description, but I find drivers in Poland predictable becasue they act you describe them. I decided a few years ago to stick to the speed limits as far as I could understand them. It took about a year to get used to this, but I can largely do it down to the 60 limit. I just let the absolute, complete nutters wizz-off into the distance, slowing down as much as necessary to achieve this.

    However, my favourite part is driving out of Warsaw on the Krakow Road down to Janki – a three lane road. I drive at the speed limit, mainly 60, and normally stick to the right hand side lane, I then count how many times a lane-switching, fast driving car (BMVooey, as I call them) overtakes me in the rush to get past everybody. They have no road sense and always choose the wrong lane at traffic lights, etc – they could not possibly conceive that a bus and a car might accelerate away from the lights much faster than 8 cars.The record of the same car overtaking me 6 times is held jointly by a black BMW and black Audi. Going the other way recently, a black Chevrolet (why all black?) was impressively just missing everything in its lane switching when it sped past me. A bit scary, but it seemed to work until I passed him where he had hit someone.

  8. guest says:

    That graphic does not exactly show how reckless we are in comparison to other EU states. It shows how our reckless driving interacts with (still) shitty roads, old rust-covered cars and huge traffic.

    I’ve been in Itally last year and I felt ‘like in Poland’. That same kind of idiots can be met on their roads.

  9. scatts says:

    There’s no question that most of those traits can be found elsewhere but I think the frequency is higher in Poland.

    I don’t accept the rusty car excuse, not these days, tough to find one on the roads now except perhaps for deep turnip country. Traffic is actually easier than most other countries. Roads are a mess but for example, if you moved all of Germany’s drivers to Poland they’d probably adapt their driving to suit the road conditions not drive like idiots and hope they don’t hit a bad patch of road. The roads are a known quantity, everyone knows they are bad so they should behave accordingly.

  10. scatts says:

    On point 1, you forgot “a bank account in the Cayman Islands”.

  11. Bartek says:

    1. True, often observed when a driver doesn’t know their route and all of the sudden realises there is their turn. This type can be recognised by a certain lack fo confidence in driving.

    2. The main sin of many Polish drivers is that they haven’t developed the habit of looking in the mirrors (both wing and rear view) to control the situation on the road behind them. And thoughtlessless of not looking before changing a lane is anotehr story.

    3. This stems from an unfettered desire to outpace other drivers by seven metres. I sometimes do it, hoping that on the otehr lane the traffic moves faster. Maybe it would look normal if Polish drivers followed one simple rule that left lane is for the fastest vehicles, the right for the slowest. No way, vehicles move in the same pace on all lanes and shuffle…

    4. No comment, what some idiots do is really scary. I sometimes skim on the brakes and speed up to deter a dumbhead drivign behind me.

    5. Go on, smash, you’re paying. The right of way doesn’t mean you don’t have to be careful. The “limited trust” rule is generally taught in Poland…

    6. They don’t realise the dangers, they’re showing off. Do think within 30 hours of driving course someone can learn to drive a car and gain experience in it? It takes tens of thousands of kilometres to be a good driver. I had luck (or maybe skills) to pass my driving exam at first take, but many people take it fifteen or twenty times and even if they finally pass it, the shouldn’t sit behind the wheel.

    7. TIR drivers are dangerous. I have respect for bus and trams, they carry tens of people and as public transport passenger I let them in as often as possible.

    8. This is anotehr violation of law. Polish highway code clearly states if you are not sure you will be able to leave a junction, stop before it.

    9. A topic for a separate post…

    10. Speed cameras – how it works:
    a/ traffic sign – speed camera, slow down
    b/ a driver sees the sign, skim on the brakes
    c/ a driver passes the sign by, downshifts and speeds up
    the same procedure repeated by all drivers and next to every camera…

    The articles you link to: A year ago I told it should be carefully checked whetehr one doesn’t get lost in left- or right-hand traffic when they switch a country. I wouldn’t sit behind the wheel in a car with the steering wheel to the right.
    And the interpreter-expenses situation is absurd for me. If you go another country you should learn a langauge, not incur costs for them, because you don’t speak English.
    The same unfortunately applies to you guys, if you drive in Poland. I do advocate learning foreign langauges and I’d like Polish policemen to communicate in English, but I wouldn’t like to see money from my taxes spent on interpreters in courts. Unless you hire me as an interpreter, then it’s a different story.

    Have a nice vote!

  12. scatts says:

    Bob, as a Brit I also don’t understand the concept of ‘merging’. Is it a sort of polite way of pushing in?

    My experience of pedestrians is very different to yours. My Warsaw pedestrians are not in the least bit timid, quite the opposite in fact. They are made from an indestructible mixture of titanium and carbon fibre so it doesn’t matter if a car hits them. They do walk very slowly across the road, just to piss us off. About 25% of normal walking speed is about right.

  13. scatts says:

    I always talk to the police po polsku, not that it happens very often. Then I mention Manchester United and they let me off! :-)

    Thankfully, I have no idea what happens in a Polish court but I’d be shocked beyond belief if anyone offered me a free translator.

  14. Grze$ko says:

    True, no doubt.
    According to the OECD factbook 2010, road fatalities per million are:
    1. South Africa – 287
    2. Russian Fed – 211
    3. Poland – 143
    4. Greece – 138
    5. USA – 123
    and the list goes on…
    I have driven in many countries including on a regular basis in China and must say Polish roads are frikkin’ scary.
    I can’t explain it, I can’t understand it. Alcohol, speed, stupidity…
    There seems to be a problem distinguishing between assertive driving and being a complete, knuckle-dragging moron – frightening…
    On the other hand I must say that I’ve been to Krakow last year, and I am here now.
    There’s been a massive change in drivers’ response to pedestrians. Last year I felt as if crossing a road was as much fun as trying to chew on a broken bottle in a cage full of snakes, this year, in about 70% of the cases cars stop when I approach a pedestrian crossing. Sometimes a last car in a line of traffic will slow down or stop to let me through. So there’s hope. Maybe the infatuation with a lump of metal is wearing off and things will improve.

  15. Good article. Driving in Poland is something I am often thinking and/or commenting on but I didn’t want to write the article because I thought it’d turn into a LONG rant.

    In general, I’ve seen all of this a million times. The only thing I’d really disagree with is the signal-manoeuvre thing – I normally observe it as “start the manoeuvre, then let your signals flash once or twice, then finish your manoeuvre”. Or of course, no use of the signals at all (those bulbs probably cost 500 EUR/ea).

    I don’t know if things are getting better but I am slowly getting used to how inconsiderate/careless drivers are here. Ultimately, what I will never understand is how virtually every Polish person knows someone that has died in an accident …but that it never seems to affect them to the point of a change in driving styles or their carefulness/considerateness.

    Oh and just to make the point: the roads here are terrible but I normally see the most hideous accidents in relatively pothole and warp-free sections of the road. Regardless, anyone that drives faster than the conditions (road quality is a condition) allow… is going to end up in an accident.

    PS: There should be an article on the logic of taxi drivers (and often passengers) not wearing seatbelts or an article on how taxi drivers need basic physics lessons.

  16. adthelad says:

    3. The lane switching disease is something I’ve been infected by from time to time. This due to the fact that’ in town’ the majority of driver suffer from ‘travelling in all three lanes at the same speed’ disease! This may be due to the fact we all modern cars now and can reach the speed limit at more or less the same time – ( or the ‘I don’t know how to use the accelerator’ disease). The number of times I manage to weave my way to the front, get stopped at the lights and then wizz off leaving everyone behind – maybe due to ‘I can’t tell when the lights have changed’ disease and the accelerator disease.

    11. Turning right disease – or, more correctly, ‘My brain doesn’t register, despite haven driven in Poland all my life, that when the lights go green and the car in front of me turns right, nine times out of ten it’ll have to stop for pedestrians, and instead of passing it and turning right into the middle or fast lane, I stop behind it and block all traffic behind me (who more often than not want to go straight,. because I also suffer from the ‘I don’t know when to switch on my indicator’ disease). This last disease is also often met when you’re in the fast lane only to discover it’s blocked ‘cos the git in front of you blocks the lane as they have stopped to turn left.

    Apart from that I don’t find driving in Poland particularly tricky. There is the ‘overtaking on blind corners’ disease and this is notorious and the Warsaw to Gdańsk road – whichever way your travelling and there’s no knowing when that’s going to happen. OH DEAR!!.

    And for all of those who enjoy Bartek’s polish quizes, here’s one:

    What is a ‘skrzyżowanie o łamanym pierwszeństwie” and when should you indicate?

  17. Bartek says:

    Adam, you’ve got us there, skrzyżowanie o łamanym pierwszeństwie – till now I didn’t know the name. One can come across it quite often, I don’t know the English name for it.

    And I don’t get your point about using indicators. They should be used like on any other junction…

    The only problem for slow-witted drivers might be to figure out who has the right of way, but for an experienced driver it takes a second.

  18. island1 says:

    I don’t drive, mainly because I think it’s just a bad idea to trust human beings with fast moving lumps of metal, me included, but living in a city it’s impossible to escape road traffic.

    I do wait until there is a thousand yards of clear space before crossing the road, because it is the ONLY way to be safe. The junction at the end of my road has two tram stops, each one with a pedestrian crossing in front of it. It should be an ideal place to cross the road—when there are two trams stopped, the road is theoretically blocked to all other vehicles. In fact it’s a death trap—cars simply swing into the oncoming lane around the trams and whip across the crossings completely blind. I just don’t have the words for this kind of flagrant idiocy.

    Interesting phenomenon recently—the tram tracks around the planty are being replaced, which means parts of the road are closed and all the traffic lights have been turned off. Astonishingly all Krakow drivers have transformed into ultra-polite and careful motorists, but only on this road. Somehow, turning the lights off has given pedestrians the moral upper hand—drivers stop to let you cross the road, something I have never seen anywhere else in Poland.

    I do think it’s genetic, or rather cultural, because pedestrians behave in exactly the same way. The number of times people have just walked directly into me because they were paying no attention whatsoever to what was going on around them. People swing doors open and step directly out of shops into your path without it even occurring to them to look. It’s highly perplexing. My favourite is what I refer to as the Crazy Ivan (after the Soviet submarine move in Red October)—the person walking in front of you simply stops dead in their tracks and launches off in a random alternative direction, often backwards. It’s as if they are completely unaware there are other people on the planet, let alone walking all around them.

  19. Bartek says:

    When speaking about the topic, I can’t help asking if any of you knows the film that made it big last winter in Poland. It’s not only because of cars smashing one another. Its roaring success was put down to the spontaneous commentator. WHAT A WIPEOUT… I wonder if foreigners get it…

  20. Ian says:

    It’s not just the cars!

    Last year I got the train from Krakow to Warsaw, came out of Centralna the wrong way as I go through it so infrequently.

    Walking with 2 suitcases to take the underpass I look up to see a Pizza delivery scooter coming towards me on the pavement who was not looking. I stand there, he looks up and stops 0.5 metre in front of me.

    I stand there, look at him, he dismissively gestures at me to move out of his way because as we all know scooters have right of way on pavements.

    I slowly move about a foot to the side and let go of my luggage, he sets off and I pushed him off his bike as he went past me.

    He jumped up to realise that I am at least 30cms taller than him (I’m 1.90m and not the smallest build in the world), I pick up luggage and walk to applause from some Poles who had both watched it and had to get out of the way of this idiot.

    I felt sorry for the person who wasn’t going to get their pizza, not for the man who thought the pavement going against the traffic was the right thing to do…..

    Scatts, I fly in on Saturday afternoon, any chance of finally meeting up for that coffee? I take it you can see my email from this post?

  21. Ian says:

    Correct, pedestrian traffic is exactly the same, walking through Zakopane a couple of years ago was an experience.

    I have seen the same behaviour in supermarkets in the UK though so I can’t say it’s just the Poles!

  22. island1 says:

    Excellent. Taxi driver discovers that he is not, miraculously, immune to the laws of physics and will no doubt learn from the experience.

    To me, this is precisely why cars are an extremely bad idea. It’s human nature to try and beat the other guy or to assume you can manage something others can’t. When you’re driving an 80 kilo body around, this is rarely a problem for anybody but yourself, when you’re driving 800 kilos of metal around, widows get made.

  23. Decoy says:

    I don’t drive in Poland (yet anyways) but when my father was giving me some basic tips in driving instructions back home, he always said one tip which has stuck with me.

    “Always make other drivers aware of what you are doing or are about to do, and plan for the fact that they don’t know”. I’m fairly sure most of your points are covered by Poles not following this rule.

    I am considering taking up driving here, so I have lots to look forward to!

  24. scatts says:


    I sent a mail.

  25. I could not agree with you more Scatts. To add to the dismal statistics, I’d also add that the number of cars on the road in the UK is over twice as many as on Polish roads.

    BUT – I think things are slowly getting better.

    Merging – the answer is ‘merge in turn’ (something increasingly seen in the UK, something with its own roadsign) which in Poland is called (by the few who do it) ‘jazda na suwak’. One car from the left hand lane, one from the right hand lane. No pushing in, no trying to show who’s above whom in the food chain, just one-one-one-one merging in turn.

    Polish police are less corrupt than they were ten years ago. Cars are better (and newer). Roads are better (slightly). As a result, the number of road deaths is, slowly, falling in Poland. But it’s still WAY TOO HIGH.

    It’s been a year and half since I saw the last dead person lying in the middle of the road. I’d not like to see any more thanks.


  26. Jeannie says:

    It sounds like the whole P.D. needs an overhaul. What are the chances that this corruption will end and that they’ll install cameras and a Highway Patrol that will improve all of this (including hiring properly trained Driver’s License staff)? What a mess!

    I was a bit scared in the UK on the windy two-lane roads where you had to constantly turn the wheel to the left or right. I wasn’t driving, though, and I wouldn’t dare try with the wheel on the right-hand side and the lane on the left-hand side of the street. That’s an accident waiting to happen.

  27. Steve says:

    Reading all of this sounds scary, but I bet most of you drivers in reality get along without difficulty. I certainly do and always have. So I refrain from adding more complaints. However, I am interested in Ian’s comments about UK supermarket behaviour. It is not really for this thread, but are there any ruder, more inconsiderate people in the world than Poles pushing a supermarket/hypermarket trolley? (Apart from Polish women pushing pushchairs in shopping centres, that is.)

  28. adthelad says:


    ‘skrzyżowanie o łamanym pierwszeństwie’ is literally a crossroads with a broken right of way, for the uninitiated, a junction signalled by a sign in which a thick line shows which route across the crossroads has priority. http://tinyurl.com/327e86c
    And no – there is no English equivalent because they don’t exist in the UK.

    Treat these crossroads (junctions) as you would any other and indicate when turning. Don’t be fooled into thinking because you have right of way you don’t have to indicate!! Does that sound obvious? Well yes but. Thanks to ‘improvements’ in road signage there is a chance you’ll cross one of these juctions and not realise you should have indicated. Why? Because not all junctions are marked correctly on the ground. On a crossroads without painted markings on the ground, or on main junctons with lights, there’s no problem. But now imagine a bend, where the central dividing line is continuous. Your on a main road as far as you know. You’re not turning off it. There are two roads connected to this bend, with give way signs and road markings. So if you’re not careful, and misled by the road markings you’ll think you’re on a main road with ‘priority’ and as such driving along it and not turning into another road. Whereas the yellow sign showing broken priority claims you are. Oooops!!

    So keep your eyes peeled for these ‘skrzyżowanie o łamanym pierwszeństwie’ – crossroads with a broken right of way, as ignoring the vertical yellow sign requiring you to indicate and only following the painted road markings could mean life or death (and yes I have come across this exact situation hence the warning!).

    Enjoy :(

  29. ThomasM says:

    Here’s another “couldn’t agree more” reply. Let me add two things, though. I’ve driven most in Germany, Poland, and France/Spain/Italy. The latter are often slated for their “reckless” driving in Germany, and not without reason. However, while “Mediterranean” drivers pay less attention to written rules, they are much better at paying attention to what goes on around them, and willing to compromise. I don’t have any figures at hand, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the overall accident rate was lower than in Germany. Germans, on the other hand, think it’s below their dignity to pay attention to what others are doing. Why should they when they can follow the rules instead? It’s awfully cliched, but there’s more than a kernel of truth in it. Now take Polish drivers—they manage to combine the worst of both worlds. They don’t bother about the written rules (unless, of course, they can be interpreted in their favor, see #5), but they don’t make up for it with a “cooperative” driving style, either.

    Regarding the number of road deaths in comparison with other countries, it should be added that it’s not just due to the state of the roads or drivers’ lack to recognize it. The Polish average income is still way below the European standard, and that means that there are still lots of old cars and also many new cars with worse safety features. Chances of surviving a crash are simply much worse in a Maluch or a Matiz than in a Volvo.

  30. adthelad says:

    @all – should have indicated the main body of my post above to all of you – Bartek was spot on of course in his assessment as to how to treat these crossroads.

  31. Ian says:


    If their cars are not that safe then surely they should be more aware of what is going on around them? It’s not rocket science!

    Once a Polish guy tried to explain how good Poles were at driving to me by saying “We have a Formula 1 driver”.

    My response was that he was not driving in Warsaw and if he was he could only be in 1 of the cars.

    The look of surprise on the guy’s face was priceless, it had never occurred to him that his argument held no merit.

    Mind you I was also never aware of a Polenez’s ability to do 120kph in first gear before I came to Poland wither.

    The blind corner overtake I’ve seen and also the overtake when you can see the road on a bend as it’s a left hand bend and just pull over before getting past the car you are overtaking because there is something coming the other way.

    Basically an awful lot of Polish Drivers (and I actually know some good Polish drivers – I also know some absolutely crap ones) do not understand the concept of looking in your mirrors, planning which lane they need to be in more than 30 metres before where they are turning, leaving a gap to the car in front (especially when they are driving an older car and the one in front is a sports car – which one would brake faster?), planning when they are going to switch lanes and basically planning in general.

    My ex is Polish and I had to teach her to drive in the UK again, not that she could not drive already (well, she could press the pedals, change gear and turn the steering wheel) but there was no thought about why she was doing it. We had arguments until once I drove the way she did and basically said “This is how you drive, want to tell me what is wrong with it?”. Of course being Polish her first reaction was to say that I did things wrong when I drove as well – I probably do but at least there is some thought behind it, getting the execution wrong is another matter. It was full of things like you are 5m from a junction and not being able to see what is coming – why are you doing 25kph and in 2nd gear?

    To give her credit she took these things on board (eventually!), she now tells all this stuff to her friends when they don’t think it so it may improve eventually.

    I also notice a lot of Polish cars in the UK, from observing these cars on the road I can pretty much tell how long the driver has been in England. It appears that give the drivers an environment where people don’t go down the road pretending that the lane markers are actually slalom cones eventually begins to rub off on them.

  32. scatts says:

    Well put.

    I do think the car argument is tenuous though. Last time I saw a Maluch or Matiz was at least 5 years ago. They’ve all be replaced by Range Rovers and Cayennes, which are considerably safer! ;)

    It would be good to see the stats for accidents and deaths in towns versus countryside. Cars are worse in the country but then there’s also WAY less traffic to have an accident with.

  33. scatts says:

    I don’t drive in the UK that often these days, although I did so earlier this month for a few days. I’m always very careful at the start because I’m not used to it but then it all comes flooding back. I’m highly likely to have an accident getting out of the hire car compound but after that I’m alright. Always shocks me the number of roundabouts there are in the UK. Quite staggering. Almost as many as there are speed cameras.

  34. OK. Fair enough. Waiting for a similar post about English driving and all its glory….

  35. Hubert says:

    Perhaps you should distinguish between sober and drunk driving, and count in that most small Polish girls can drink more than most big German guys..

  36. Ian says:

    Well my Parent’s are bloody useless but given that I learnt to drive before they did that may explain it…..my father appears to not realise that there are lanes on roundabouts as well.

    One of my friends is a terrible driver as well, the last time I got in a car he was driving was about 20 years ago.

    Not to mention seeing someone going the wrong way around a roundabout in Stockport about 15 years ago.

    This is not a “We are better at driving than you” as I see a lot of bad driving in the UK, just not as much as I see in Warsaw!

    A funny one was watching a car going along the tram line in Krakow as he got nearly to the end when the tram came around the corner and he had to reverse 400m back down Starowislna.

    It was a shock when I came back to the UK from living in California to see how much worse the driving was in the UK than the US.

    I hate to think how I would have managed going from California to Warsaw.

    The problem is that all bad drivers actually think they are good!

    Personally, the worst drivers I would put on a motorbike, then when they lane hop at least they would be the ones hurt. At least my biker mindset means that I treat every other vehicle as a potential accident.

  37. Steve says:

    I’ve always found driving anywhere in Poland much easier than driving in London, which is where I mostly drove, but that is probably because city Polish roads are much better. (Cars used in Poland: a very old English Vauxhall Astra, an old Maluch, Toyota Yaris and Citroen C5 – a wide range. I also drove many other cars in England: not a Maluch though, but I doubt if it would have been a problem in London, since the early Minis were pretty awful as well. My first car was an old Morris Minor.) I used to drive regularly between London and mid-Norfolk in England and between Warsaw and Kielce in Poland, which used to have roughly equivalent roads both before and after much of the roads were made multi-lane. Apart from the Radom death trap when that was the short multi-lane speeding zone, I found Poland easier, but that may have been because of the much smaller amount of traffic. In fact this was made even easier by avoiding Radom and going along the country roads to Konskie, which was a very pleasant journey (except for the short period when the ice destruction of the surface left big pot holes) and slightly quicker because of the even more empty roads, though slightly longer.

    I saw bad driving in both countries and probably complained equally about both. I did think Polish driving was worse, but I was able to get used to it so I didn’t know how much my concern was what was very clearly different national driving cultures. Indeed, the surprise was that there were so few accidents in Poland given the way people drove. People expected it and dealt with it. It was only the dead on the side of the road (mainly at Radom) that really convinced me that Polish driving was more dangerous.

    Driving in other countries has just been en-route by motorway and in a few sunshine holiday destinations, where driving seemed quiet, but otherwise normal. However, off to Italy on Saturday, so I’ll see how that goes.

  38. spiritus says:

    Your excellent post has given me flashbacks of my experiences being a passenger on Polish roads.

    Far too often my friend who was driving would overtake (regardless of whether anything was hurtling towards us in the opposing lane) and then accelerate towards said oncoming vehicle. Pause and think about this for a few seconds…….our car in one lane doing 60 mph and a truck in the same lane driving towards us at 60 mph. Our easy flowing conversation became quickly one sided as my life passed before me whilst my driver friend continued telling me about the latest promotions on MP3 players at the local Tesco store. With seconds to spare we swerve back into the right lane and carry on our journey (and conversation). Now this ain’t normal man !

    You should write more about the Polish driving experience as the less people on the road the better in my eyes !

    Things for future possible debate:-

    Soft asphalt-driving through asphalt furrows.

    Polish grannies who look about 105 years old selling mushrooms and bilberries by the side of the road.

    The large number of trees that line many roads making many minor driving mistakes fatal.

    Prostitutes lining the roads outside of large conurbations (they even wave back at you).

  39. ThomasM says:

    “If their cars are not that safe then surely they should be more aware of what is going on around them? It’s not rocket science!”

    That’s not the issue. Even if you are as aware of what’s going on around you as humanly possible, when you’re in an older/lower-budget car, you’ll have worse chances of surviving a collision (or avoiding it in the first place) than when you’re in a newer/more expensive one. Rocket science it ain’t, statistics it is. :)

  40. ghost says:

    Actually I’m a Pole and I was like
    “Spot on. I couldn’t agree more!”

  41. […] [Polandian] Polish driving skills – or lack of them! […]

  42. jedna_brew says:

    there is one more thing – driving hm… “style” depends on region of poland and road infrastructure. e.g. – driving in kraków is a scary experience, particulary in centrum. luckily I live in śląsko-dąbrowski region, where we have a very rare thing – bypasses… :)

  43. Name says:

    “but are there any ruder, more inconsiderate people in the world than Poles pushing a supermarket/hypermarket trolley? ” – yes. I spent few years in the UK. Great country, wonderful people, respectful drivers. BUT, terrible pedestrians, especially in very crowded places (shopping malls, high streets, etc.) They go straight on you, push you, etc. Women pushing pushchairs in shopping centre – even worst.
    They usually, say “sorry”, but 25kg trolley running over your your feet is not pleasant experience at all.
    I’m not sure in Poland it’s much better, but certainly in the UK it’s bad.

  44. Bartek says:

    Spot on. The main problem, I believe is our (Polish) misconception of good driver, being often confused with “skilled driver”. For instance, taking a 90 degrees turn speeding 60km/h might be considered by some people skilful (race drivers) but doing this manoeuvre in the centre of Warsaw is definitely not “good driving”. Good driving is respectful driving.

    That’s the main difference between UK and Polish drivers I believe.

    The problem lies in our training and licensing system. For instance, I remember my driving lessons. Most of my time I spent manoeuvring on parking place, to the point of excellence. What’s the point in learning to do the parking manoeuvre at once, without repeating? This doesn’t make you good driver, makes you skilful driver (however, I’d doubt this either).

    In the UK, you have (correct me if I’m wrong), temporary driving license. Which means, that you can drive with an experienced driver, to improve your driving skills and pass driving license. This is often your parent or older friend. You can practise as many hours as you wish and you learn from someone you respect (usually). I find this much better then driving lessons with instructor and much more useful.

    Any other thoughts?

  45. […] arrivent toujours à une conclusion qui a du sens. Voici deux exemples pour illustrer mes propos : Polish driving skills ou The truth about mosquitoes. On y trouve également des infos utiles tels qu’une revue de […]

  46. […] no more than lines in the tarmac. The only way you know you have changed countries is a sign saying Poland Welcomes Careful Drivers, and a bleep on your mobile phone when the network changes. It is a joy to whistle past boundaries […]

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