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
- 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.
- Home zone: 20 km/h
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
“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.
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 slowly, but the problem remains significant. The best thing you can do is be extra careful at all times and never make yourself dependent on someone 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: give a friendly wave visible through your rear window so that a tailgater can see that you are aware of their presence; add one second to your forward gap; and let the tailgater pass as soon as you can.
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.
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, although you may still encounter some roads whose surface is quite uneven or full of potholes. However, all roads are driveable; some may just be less comfortable to drive on. Only the signposting is often poor. Excessive speed limits (ignored by 99% of drivers), unmarked junctions and poor readability of some signs (especially in winter when they are covered with snow or grime) are the biggest problems.
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.
Safety-wise, in the biggest cities it is a good idea to lock the car if you think that you may be stationary e.g. at traffic lights for an extended period of time – beware of muggers, who may be attracted by foreign number plates.
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.
From time to time, you may encounter the police, often hidden by a tree or some other object, with a portable speed camera. You may be warned by oncoming drivers (flashing their lights) that the police is ahead but this is not a rule. The police also patrols roads in marked and unmarked vehicles. 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.
This article has been submmited by Wojtek Szajnert.