Are Polish drivers crazy or accidents are caused by bad roads? Posted by on Jun 13, 2013 in Culture

The headline stories on one of the Polish papers on June 13th made typical reading. Four people killed when their car ploughed into a shop; five dead after their car rolled off the tarmac and into a ditch along a rural road in the northwest.

Nine dead and nine more to add to the grim statistics that surround Polish roads. Poland has some of the most dangerous roads in Europe, and each year they exact a fearful toll of dead and injured. In 2011 alone some 4,200 died on the road. This meant Poland had a road mortality rate of 110 deaths per million citizens, which was almost double the European average of 60, and pitiful when compared to Britain’s rate of 32.

The dangers of the roads provoke both anger and frustration in Poles. Anger because so many people are killed and injured, and frustration because the death rate remains so high and appears to defy the progress Poland has experienced in so many other fields over the past two decades.

It also appears to defy many of the road safety campaigns. Just before Poles take to the roads en masse for major national and religious holidays, warnings abound about the thousands of extra police drafted into traffic duty, and the grim consequences drivers can expect if convicted of dangerous or drunk driving. The police have even enlisted the support of priests in the hope that a roadside castigation from a member of the cloth will have more of an effect on errant drivers than a fine.

Yet still people die. The holiday surrounding All Souls’ Day, when Poles in their millions travel to graveyards to pay their respects to the departed, has developed its own macabre momentum with the carnage on the roads providing many sad reasons to visit a cemetery the following year. The accidents cost the Polish economy around $6.5 billion a year once all the bills have been added up.

Many people blame aggressive and selfish driving habits for the high death rate. From a foreign perspective Polish drivers often appear indifferent or oblivious to other road users in their manic desire to get from A to B, but, in truth, the drivers are only part of the problem.

For most of the years following the fall of communism drivers have had to deal with a road network shamefully inadequate and unable to cope with the increasing speed and numbers of cars on the road. At the same time signage and road markings—or the lack of them to be precise—contributed their own hazards.

A lack of wealth in Poland has also meant that in comparison to western Europeans Poles driver older, less-safer cars. Amid all the doom and gloom there are, however, Poland has embarked on a hefty road-building programme that has resulted in miles of safe motorways and highways opening up across the country. The growing prosperity of Poles also means that more and more of them can afford to buy the latest air-bag-packed cars, while the old death-traps are retired to the scrap yard.

This year the government started a campaign aiming to halve the number of road deaths by 2020, and the number of injuries by 40%. Roads will be renovated, new signs added and the police equipped with the latest kit for catching drivers breaking the law. Speed cameras, still something of a novelty on Polish roads, will also increase in numbers.

While better roads and coercion should make a difference Poles are also hoping for change in attitudes. To make a real dent in the death rate people have to think about other road users when they get behind the wheel. The old aggressive and dangerous habits have to die.

Do następnego razu… (Till next time…)

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About the Author: Kasia

My name is Kasia Scontsas. I grew near Lublin, Poland and moved to Warsaw to study International Business. I have passion for languages: any languages! Currently I live in New Hampshire. I enjoy skiing, kayaking, biking and paddle boarding. My husband speaks a little Polish, but our daughters are fluent in it! I wanted to make sure that they can communicate with their Polish relatives in our native language. Teaching them Polish since they were born was the best thing I could have given them! I have been writing about learning Polish language and culture for Transparent Language’s Polish Blog since 2010.


  1. Lois B:

    You make very good points about the cars and the roads, but as a foreigner in Poland, I have to put most of the blame on the drivers. They drive as if they are invincible and the only car on the road.

  2. Duncan:

    I lived in Poland for three great years and I think it’s a bit of both! Yes the drivers are mostly crazy but the roads are awful too!!!! 😀

  3. gls:

    My daughter and I are currently in southern Poland right now, and it’s the first time I’ve been here in three years. Lots of improvement with the roads; very little improvement in the driving habits. I find in this region the drivers seem angry at the lack of highways and make up for it by driving near-highway speeds whenever possible. And they’re incredibly impatient with me: I drive just over the speed limit most times, and I’ve been passed on double lines more times than I care to remember. I’d have to say poor driving habits play more of a role than you’re giving credit.

  4. Stiwski:

    @gls I think you are right about southern Poland that poor driving plays a big role but as you pointed out there is a lack of Autostradę in the south. This makes people drive more aggressive to be able to get anywhere in less than 2 hours.
    I also agree with Kasia that the old unsafe cars lead to more deaths, bad driving causes the accidents but the old cars cannot take the impact and the people in the cars are more likely to die.
    It has improved a lot in the past 4 years that I have been driving in Poland but you have to remember, Poland is about 40 years behind Western Europe with road building. Not through their own choice but they are still behind. UK and German motorway systems took a long time to get to the standard they are now.

  5. John:

    I agree. Polish drivers do think that country roads are to be used like they are driving the Gran Prix from one town to the other, the faster the better, regardless of conditions. The faster a car appears while standing means the faster it must go when moving.

  6. Steve:

    I am always conscious of the person driving too close to me from behind, often these drivers have mobile phones in their hands usually driving expensive cars

    I think its time we cracked down on these drivers who are often the cause of accidents if you threaten someone with your dangerous driving you should be prosecuted. Like many other expats here we are driving with cameras nowadays – if the Police are not given the tools do their job ordinary people need take matters into their own hands