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?