Are you driving in Poland? Check out these useful tips

May 20, 2020

Are you renting a car in Poland? Check out these useful tips when driving in Poland.

modern skyscrapers zlota 44 buildings futuristic architecture in downtown warsaw during sunset in poland

Downtown Warsaw photographed by Rudy and Peter Skitterians.

Poland is the perfect under-the-radar tourist destination in Central Europe, and the ideal place for a road trip. Learn all about the official driving laws in Poland, including regulations, speed limits and the tolling system on highways, as well as insider tips.

Poland has nearly everything you can expect from a road trip destination: scenic roads, dramatic and diverse landscapes, historic cities and modern highway connections to other European nations. Not to mention the affordable eateries of all kinds and budget-friendly accommodation options scattered around the nation.

Tags: Poland, tips and tricks,

Before you begin driving in Poland, there are some important tips you should be aware of.

Do you need an International Driving Permit to drive in Poland?

First of all, let’s establish what kind of documents tourists need to obtain in order to legally drive and rent a car in Poland.

The case is very simple for travelers who are holders of EU-issued driver’s licenses or licenses issued in EFTA member states (European Free Trade Association, list of members here), as they can drive in Poland without any limitations. This includes drivers whose driving licenses were issued in countries such as Germany, Italy or Norway.

If your driving license was issued in one of the countries that signed the 1968 Vienna Convention on Road Traffic (check the list here), you can drive with your domestic license up to 6 months in Poland, as long as you are over 18 years old. Additionally, Poland recognizes domestic licenses issued in Japan and South Korea.

Tourists who have a domestic driving license issued in a different country will need to obtain an International Driving Permit in their home country prior to leaving. 

Check out this blog post to learn more about IDP’s. Remember that an International Driving Permit is only valid alongside your driving license, keep both documents on you at all times. This includes drivers whose driving licenses were issued in countries such as the United States of America or China.

What are the speed limits in Poland?

In the past, I’ve had misinformed friends who believed that highways in Poland don’t have speed limits. The confusion likely comes from the fact that some segments of the Autobahn, highways in Germany, are unrestricted. However, this is not the case in Poland. Polish highways have a speed limit of 140 kilometers per hour (87 mph).

When it comes to urban zones such as cities or small towns, the speed limit is 50 kilometers per hour (31 MPH). On some roads within urban areas, the speed limit is raised to 60 km/h (37 MPH) between 11 PM and 5 AM. 

If a road sign informs that you’ve entered an urban zone (the sign shows a city skyline, click here to see it), you can drive up to 60 kilometers per hour between 11 PM and 5 AM, unless other signs state otherwise (i.e. a 50km/h speed limit sign).

Roads close to schools or around city centers have a speed limit decreased all the way to 30km/h (19 MPH) or in some cases even 20 kilometers per hour (12 MPH). On the other hand, some multi-lane roads in large cities will have a speed limit increased up to 70 or 80 km/h (43 or 50 MPH). Pay attention to road signs at all times.

Outside of urban areas, the general speed limits are:

  • 90 km/h (56 MPH)- single-lane roads
  • 100 km/h (62 MPH)- multi-lane roads
  • 100 km/h (62 MPH)- single-lane express roads
  • 120 km/h (75 MPH)- multi-lane express roads
  • 140km/h (87 MPH)- highways

Keep in mind that some areas could have lower speed limits, for example due to construction work or pedestrian crossings. Always pay attention to the road signs to avoid speeding.

krakow traditional empty medieval market square with pigeons and basilic in background on a clear day

Cracow’s Old Town photographed by Konrad Krajewski.

Are roads in Poland good?

Poland is still behind other European countries in terms of road infrastructure. The highway network is a fraction of the Autobahn network in Germany, and some of the backroads are in absolutely terrible condition.

That said, the last decade has seen lots of improvement across the country. Most of the main cities are now conveniently connected by either highways or multi-lane expressways, significantly cutting down travel times. 

Backroads, especially around the countryside and less-popular areas, are still narrow and filled with potholes, but they can now be avoided in favor of the recently-built roads. If you do have to drive along the less-than-ideal backroads, be extra cautious. Look out for potholes and do your best to avoid these types of roads at night, as they’re often not illuminated at all.

Are there toll roads in Poland?

Most of the roads in Poland are free to use, except for some segments of the major highways. As of 2020, there are 3 paid highways in Poland.

The first paid highway is the A2, specifically the stretch starting in Łódź and continuing west all the way to the German border. Keep in mind that there are two separate companies that own the toll booths. Check the current fees for the A2 between Świecko (German border) and Konin here. The fees can be paid by cash or card directly at the toll booths.

The A1 highway is paid as well, specifically the sector between Rusocin and Nowa Wieś. The fees can be settled by cash or credit card directly at the booths. You can find the current fees on the official website.

The final paid highway is the A4. Similarly to the A2, there are two different segments operated by two companies. The fees for the first stretch between Kraków and Wrocław can be found here. The fee calculator for the segment between Wrocław and Sośnica can be found on this website, below the A2 fees. Once again, fees can be paid directly at the toll booths using cash or credit cards.

Keep in mind that you can experience long queues at the A1 toll booths near Gdańsk during the summer peak times (July, August), especially on weekends. Expect to wait as long as 2 hours during peak hours. 

Can you turn right on red in Poland?

In the United States, drivers are allowed to make right turns at intersections unless there are signs that don’t permit it. In Poland, similarly to the rest of Europe, that is not the case.

Turning right on red is only allowed on one specific condition. First of all, there has to be a green arrow located directly on the right-hand side of the traffic lights. Once the green arrow lights up, drivers are allowed to turn right. Expect traffic coming from both sides and pedestrians or cyclists at the crossings. In Poland, pedestrians and cyclists have the right of way at crossings, be sure to let everyone through before you turn right. 

Keep in mind that drivers are required to stop and check for oncoming traffic and pedestrians before turning right whenever the green arrow is lit-up. You can get a ticket if you turn right without stopping to check for traffic. If the green arrow is not illuminated, you may not turn right on a red light.

Are Polish traffic laws strict?

Poland has one of the highest traffic accident rates in all of Europe. Therefore, the government is continuously introducing new, strict traffic laws. This includes penalties for speeding and reckless driving as well as drink-driving. How strict are they exactly?

Penalties for drink-driving in Poland

To start with, there are lots of accidents caused by motorists driving drunk or under the influence of drugs. Drivers will be fined if the alcohol level in their bloodstream exceeds 0.02%. If it’s more than 0.05%, an appearance in court and a prison sentence is quite likely. Don’t drink and drive at all.

Penalties for speeding in Poland

Poland is infamous as the European hotspot for reckless and dangerous driving. While the number of reckless drivers has gone down in the last years, speeding is still a very common occurrence and the government keeps fighting it by introducing strict laws year by year.

On top of hefty tickets that have to be settled on the spot, drivers can lose their license for 3 months if they are caught exceeding the speed limit by 51 km/h and above in urban areas. It doesn’t matter whether you are a Polish citizen or a foreign tourist, your driving license will be taken away on the spot and you won’t be able to drive for three months. Driving licenses issued outside of Poland are then forwarded to relevant authorities in other countries.

If you do happen to lose your driving license in Poland due to speeding, the police will give you a special document that allows you to drive for 24 hours from the moment you have lost your license.

Did you receive a traffic ticket during your trip in Poland? 

You have to settle the fine on the spot, unless you are a resident of Poland. From my own experience, I can confirm that the police are following these regulations very strictly and will not hesitate to write a hefty ticket on top of the driving license suspension.

castle ruins in a cloudy forest with tall snow-covered tatry mountains in background during sunset in poland

Tatry Mountains photographed by Tadeusz Dziedzina.

What are some of the most common tourist scams in Poland?

Poland is generally safe for tourists, as long as you are aware of the common scams that often target tourists. Here are the most common scams you might fall victim to when driving in Poland:

The Parking “Assistants”

Trying to find a free parking space around the Old Town in Kraków or near the trendy stores at Mokotowska in Warsaw isn’t easy. It can get very frustrating, especially during peak hours and weekends. You might come across people guiding you to a free parking spot. If you park at the spot you were shown (in most cases it’s clearly visible from the street, hence their “help” isn’t exactly useful), the person will then demand payment for their services.

The Fake Police

This scam is thankfully nowhere near as popular as it was a decade ago, though it can still occur in some places around Poland. How does it work? Scammers will pull you over to the side of the road, convince you that you’ve broken some law and demand payment. The more sophisticated scammers can wear uniforms similar to those worn by law enforcement. 

What else should you know about driving in Poland?

Your car lights need to be on at all times, during both day and night. Most rental cars come with daytime running lights, such lights are sufficient during the day. If your rental car doesn’t have daytime running lights, you always have to drive with your dipped beams.

When driving on a highway or multi-lane expressway, make sure to stay in the right lane. The left lane is strictly for overtaking. Drivers can get a ticket for driving on the left lane if the right one is free.

Be cautious when approaching pedestrian crossings and intersections. Pedestrians have the right of way on all pedestrian crossings and the same goes for cyclists at bike crossings.

All cars driving in Poland must have a fire extinguisher and an emergency warning triangle inside of the vehicle. Rental cars come equipped with both of them, but be sure to double-check before you set off, just in case.

Seatbelts are mandatory for all occupants in a vehicle. Children below 150 centimeters tall need to have a child seat to ride in the front seat. Children above 135 centimeters who weigh over 36 kilograms don’t need a child seat when riding in the back seats. Occupants less than 135 centimeters tall need to have a child seat, regardless of which seat they’re riding in.

It is illegal to be on your phone while driving in Poland unless you are using a hands-free Bluetooth kit.

Don’t leave any valuables when you leave your car at public car parks. Poland is safe for tourists, but thefts do happen, just like in any other country. Especially in large cities and touristy areas.

Traffic in Poland is on the right-hand side of the road.

What are you waiting for? Check out one of the Rentalmoose Travel Guides in Poland and plan your next road trip.

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