Polish Language Blog

Traffic safety and road conditions on Polish roads Posted by on Nov 23, 2011 in Culture, Regulations

While in Poland, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.

I tried to gather some most important information about safety on Polish roads. It is for general reference only, and may not be completely accurate in a particular location or circumstance.

You must have an International Driving Permit (IDP), obtained prior to departure from the United States, as well as a U.S. driver’s license, in order to drive in Poland. A U.S. driver’s license alone is not enough, and U.S. citizens cannot obtain IDPs in Poland. Only two U.S. automobile associations — the American Automobile Association (AAA) and the American Automobile Touring Alliance (AATA) — have been authorized by the U.S. Department of State to distribute IDPs. Polish roadside services, while not always at American levels, are rapidly improving. Polski Związek Motorowy Auto-Tour has multilingual operators and provides assistance countrywide 24/7. You can reach them by calling 19637, (22) 532-8427, or (22) 532-8433. The police emergency number is 997, fire service is 998, ambulance service is 999, and the general emergency number is 112. Seat belts are compulsory in both the front and back seats, and children under the age of 12 are prohibited from riding in the front seat. Children younger than 12 years old and who are shorter than 4’11” must ride in a child car seat. You must use headlights year round, at all times, day and night (I keep forgetting about this one while driving in Poland!). The use of cellular phones while driving is prohibited except for hands-free models. Making a right turn on a red light is not allowed.

Again, these are rules, but you will see that not everyone abides them…My husband I travelled in Poland so many times, always with US Drivers License ( I also had my Polish ones). We never obtained IDP, but we were also never stopped by a police, so I’m not sure what the consequences would have been.

You should note that road fatalities are high in Poland, placing it among the more dangerous places to drive in Europe. There has been a substantial increase in the number of cars on Polish roads and driving, especially after dark, is hazardous. Roads are sometimes narrow, poorly lighted, frequently under repair (especially in the summer months), and are often also used by pedestrians and cyclists. The Ministry of Infrastructure has a program called “Black Spot” (Czarny Punkt), which places signs at locations with a particularly high number of accidents and/or casualties. The signs have a black spot on a yellow background, and the road area around the “black spot” is marked with red diagonal lines.

Alcohol consumption is frequently a contributing factor in accidents (https://blogs.transparent.com/polish/smoking-and-drinking/). Polish law provides virtually zero tolerance for driving under the influence of alcohol, and penalties for doing so (defined as a blood alcohol level of 0.02 or higher) include a fine and probation or imprisonment for up to two years. Penalties for drivers involved in accidents are severe, and can include imprisonment from six months to eight years or, in the case of drivers under the influence of alcohol or drugs, up to twelve years.

Within cities, taxis are available at major hotels and designated stands or may be ordered in advance by telephone. Some drivers speak English and accept credit cards. When hailing taxis on the street, you should avoid those that do not have a telephone number displayed since these may not have meters and many of them charge significantly more. Do not accept assistance from self-professed “taxi drivers” who approach you in the arrivals terminal or outside the doors at Warsaw Airport, but rather use only those that display telephone numbers and a company name and are at designated taxi stands (https://blogs.transparent.com/polish/transportation-in-poland/).

Unpredictable weather throughout the year can cause problems on the roads. For instance, Poland experienced numerous floods in 2010, during which many bridges were closed and road travel was significantly disrupted. Please monitor local conditions when traveling. You can visit the website of Poland’s National Tourist Office and Poland’s Ministry of Infrastructure,which is responsible for road safety.

Here is also a video with most of the warning signs you may see while driving in Poland:

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. jonpgh:

    Thank you for this post. I would also make it known that in the past 5 years Poland has made use of the roundabout design at a lot of intersections.

    I also forget to turn on my lights while driving in Poland, but kind and thoughtful drivers and pedestrians always remind the driver to do so. Thank you to those who have done so for me!
    I was also told that it is illegal to have a cup and drink while driving. And not driving DUI is very strongly observed by every responsible driver in Poland.
    Czarny Punkt signs are curious to me becaus it would be an invitation to sue the government in the US because if it is known that it is dangerous then do something about it. Like the disappearing “dangerous intersection” signs in America.

  2. Paddy:

    Hey I posted a blog about this as well which readers may enjoy (or not).



  3. Jack:

    I’ll add my two cents here. We moved to Poland in 2002. My wife and I had each obtained an IDP from AAA, in my opinion simply a huge racket. Over the course of about 8 years I was stopped by Polish police for various reasons and NEVER ONCE did they ask to see my IDP. They were always satisfied with simply seeing my US drivers licence.

    Finally I was stopped and was asked by the policeman why I did not have a Polish Drivers Licence. I decided to obtain one and was permitted to take the test in English since my Polish isn’t that great.

    I’d like to add that before we moved here we were warned about police who’d stop us to try to get money from us. In all my years here I have only been treated in a very courteous and professional manner by Polish police. I have great respect for them.

    Some of my Polish friends say that I am treated this way only because I am an American. Those same friends seem to have very negative attitudes about the police.

    In my opinion Poland’s rule about having your headlights on 24/7/365 is fantastic. The US should wake up and adopt the same rule. I bet it would save lots of lives.

  4. jonpgh:

    Jack – thanks for the post on the IDL. My friend, who lives in Poland, also makes sure he gets one and I agree it’s a racket because it isn’t even written in Polish. However, an acquaintance who is a Spanish policeman says they always ask for it and fine the driver for not having one – but then again it is in Spanish, but again it basically says nothing!

  5. jonpgh:

    PS. The video on the warning signs in Poland is good, but since I live in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the ones about steep roads was funny to me. Pittsburgh, we like to say, is the largest city in the Appalachian mountains and it is built on hills. So this sign would be everywhere. I saw this one in Poland and I am still looking for the “steep” road! Come to Pittsburgh, we’ll show you steep roads. We have one “Canton Avenue” that is 37% grade and only cars are to go up, not down.

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