A recent article in The Economist is entitled “Polish driving: too many road deaths” (http://www.economist.com/blogs/easternapproaches/2013/06/polish-driving). They’re not wrong. The casualty rate on Polish roads is double the European average, and four times that of UK.
I witnessed this when I lived in Poland, and wrote about it in Polska Dotty. On a personal level I remember drivers driving too fast, undercutting me, never letting me in. Certainly there was very little courtesy on the roads. And with it – when I talked to Polish friends and colleagues on the subject – denial at an individual level that they were to blame. Which taken to its logical conclusion made no sense (the problems were being caused by… no-one?). And yet, for example, I remember spending an evening drinking with friends who intended to drive home afterwards.
Something that particularly astonished me was that every bank holiday weekend, a map of the country divided into “voivods” or counties would be shown on TV. In pretty much every voivod would be a figure: 1, 2, 5 – whatever. It was the number of people had died on the Polish roads that weekend.
But it’s not all bad news. The motorway network in Poland had increased greatly in recent years; cars are safer, with airbags and other important safety features; and successive Governments campaign on road safety (though evidently with room for improvement).
The Economist tells us signposting will be improved and speed cameras introduced. This is no small thing. I recall traffic lights that lit up green in the sun even though they were not yet on go! And the sooner they get rid of those bizarre, small green arrows, like something your 4 year old would make at nursery, stuck to the side of a traffic light, apparently allowing a driver to weave into oncoming traffic at his discretion – the better.
But in the end, as The Economist argues, it’s going to be a cultural thing. Or, as one of my twitter (@PolskaDotty) followers put it when I retweeted The Economist’s article: “it is the mental approach of the drivers and lack of respect for pedestrians and other users causing many problems!”.
Let none of this put you off visiting Poland, of course. But do take care on the Polish roads, which, depending on where you’re from, may not be as placid as those you are used to. Oh, and my special tip of the day: if you want to live a long life, never cross at a zebra crossing until there isn’t a car in sight…