Driving in Greece, is it that bad?
Driving in mainland Greece and on the Greek islands can be a pleasure for those who know how to drive and especially those who know how to drive defensively. The most important thing to know is that following the rules are seen as a weakness of character by many Greek men who drive with very little patience and no consideration. There are many people on the road who could not pass a road test if they had to, yet they are driving and some of them are driving fast. This guide is by no means saying that all Greek drivers are bad, on the contrary most drivers are sensible, but, as in most countries there are those who are not! Our aim is not to scare you, but as the old saying goes…forewarned is forearmed. Driving in Greece is not recommended for new drivers or nervous drivers. The main rule is confidence, that and knowing how to drive defensively. There is a very thin line in Greece between defensive driving and offensive driving, and unfortunately the latter you will come across more often than not. Always keep in mind that you may be the only person on the road who actually took and passed a road test. Many Greek drivers, rather than go through the inconvenience of taking the test or risk failing it simply bribed the people administering it. Just assume that nobody but you, knows how to drive, and you have to make up for their lack of ability by driving more defensively. The following points are areas that need understanding before attempting to drive in Greece.
There are lane markings on most roads but these can get worn in certain places so keep your eyes on the car in front of you. There is especially a lack of lane discipline at night. The double lines in the middle of the road mean no-passing just like at home but do not be surprised to see someone else passing in fact they may be coming right towards you. Just take it to mean that you should not pass and that you should be extra alert for someone who is passing from the opposite direction because the rule does not apply to them. Remember always keep to the right. Some Greek drivers do not like to be told what to do and they see the double white centre line as a challenge to them to cross it and assert their individuality. Other road markings are the same as in most countries, central lines long and broken means there is a hazard, only pass if you can see the road clearly and with care, short broken lines are land dividers and should only be crossed if the road is clear. Areas with white diagonal stripes or chevrons are to keep traffic lanes apart or to protect any traffic that is turning left. If the area has a border of a broken white line, you should not go into the area unless it is necessary and you can see clearly that it is safe for you carry out the manoeuvre.
•Cutters and Drifters
This is a term that I have come up with to describe certain drivers. This is especially evident on the (what can be) dangerous mountain roads. The Cutter – A driver who cuts every single corner and bend, usually through driving too fast or pure laziness. The Cutter will be seen to cross completely into the opposite lane if needed and will also ignore other drivers coming in the opposite direction. The Cutter will inevitably turn into the next category, the Drifter. The Drifter is a driver who approaches a sharp bend at speed, probably in the wrong gear and you guessed it…drifts into the oncoming lane. This is most evident during or after some rain (which I will go into further down). Problems occur when these two types of drivers meet on a sharp bend. Always be aware of the driving style of the driver in front and behind. Keep your distance.
Traffic signal sequences in Greece are different from the UK. They are Green (Go) Amber (Prepare to Stop) and Red (Stop), then straight to green again. On approaching a set of traffic signals, you will see a set of lights about 20 meters before the main signals. If these lights are flashing amber, this means the main set of traffic signals ahead are about to turn to red. As you prepare to stop when the light turns amber be aware that the guy behind you may have already decided he is going to go through it, or is lighting a cigarette or playing with his phone or stereo. That does not mean that you should race through amber lights to avoid being rear-ended. It means you should slow down and it means you should definitely not decide at the last instant not to go through. Make your decision early and ALWAYS use your mirrors. It is better to have the guy behind you swearing at you than on top of you. On the green light, always make sure you look before going as there maybe as many as three or four drivers that have decided they could not be bothered to stop for their red light. BE OBSERVANT ALWAYS.
Motorcyclists in Greece do not obey any lanes or rules and there is usually one or more somewhere nearby. Watch out for them especially where tourists who have never driven a motorbike in their lives are doing so now and are possibly drunk too. As in all countries, be especially aware of motorcyclists, they are faster than you and more manoeuvrable. Let them pass by moving over. Always use you mirrors and be aware of what is happening behind you.
•Mountains and Rural Areas
The mountains and rural areas of Greece can be the most rewarding areas to drive around, but there are things to watch out for. Driving can be treacherous due to narrow roads, blind curves, and unprotected embankments. Watch out for people parked in unbelievably stupid places, like when you come around a mountain bend and someone is relieving himself or taking a picture of his girlfriend while his car is parked halfway in the road. If you have never driven in mountains before you may want to practice using your gears to reduce your speed instead of using your brakes and then not having any when you need to actually stop. Driving at night in rural areas has its own list of terrors for the unprepared driver. Greek drivers seem to forget about the dipped headlight rule for oncoming vehicles, be prepared. Driving through rural areas and the mountains at night can be especially dangerous due some drivers who think its ok to drink and drive, drunk drivers should be watched for everywhere but especially in rural areas where police presence is very little. They’re quite easy to spot as they are the ones driving way too slow and usually in the middle of the road trying to follow the centre line. In the mountains, watch for obstacles in the road, fallen rocks, branches etc, especially after bad weather. Driving Styles and Behaviour You will come across may strange driving habits in Greece, but the main ones are fast and aggressive or slow and nervous. Let the fast and aggressive ones pass, do not attempt to fight, move over to the right and let them pass, their end maybe just around the next corner. The slow and nervous actually pose more of a problem as the fast and aggressive drivers get backed up behind you, there will always be one who is just that bit more impatient than the rest and attempt to overtake in the most ridiculous place. Always use your mirrors and assess the situation and be prepared to react. Always make sure you use your indicator when overtaking or turning. Drive at a speed that you are comfortable with (within the law) and do not be intimidated. One habit you will see is when you decide to overtake, nine times out of 10, the vehicle in front will brake which at first is very un-nerving, they do this to let you pass, just remember not to get too close. Tail gaiting is another problem and like elsewhere is done to intimidate, do not let it. Maintain your speed and they will pass. When approaching junctions or side roads, always be alert because some drivers will pull out in front you. A lot of Greek drivers drive around with no consideration for fellow drivers and no awareness to what is going on around them. Remember that even if you have seen them, they probably will not have seen you.
Please, please, please be aware of the animals! If you have ever been to Greece before, you will have undoubtedly seen the large amount of stray dogs and cats around, and you will have probably seen inexcusable amount of dead animals be the sides of the roads. I say inexcusable as no one should be driving so fast, especially in built up areas that they should every hit a dog or a cat. If you consider yourself a good driver, an alert driver then you should never hit an animal. Always be prepared! The stray animal problem in Greece is huge and it’s not the animals fault. I am not going to go into this here, but there are animals everywhere! Animals, like many Greek drivers are unpredictable and should be treated with caution when driving. There is no excuse for running a dog or cat down, especially in a busy built up area. The old excuse of ‘it ran out in front of me’ simply equates to ‘I was driving too fast and not paying attention’. Sorry if I seem damning on this, but I care for animals a great deal and do not like to see them suffer at the hand of irresponsible people. That said, and looking at the situation objectively, with so many uncared for animals, accidents will happen. But with a little common sense, these can be reduced dramatically.
The weather is probably one of largest contributors to accidents in Greece. When it rains, especially in the summer months after long periods of no rain, the roads become extremely slippery. For some reason, the Greeks still drive as fast as possible with the inevitable consequences. Common sense tells us that wet roads can be dangerous roads, so put that common sense to use and drive accordingly. Leave plenty of space between you and the car in front, approach bends and corners slowly and in the mountains, use your gears to slow you down and not your brakes. In the winter months, snow can be a problem. When it comes, it comes thick and fast and although the roads do get cleared, sometimes it’s a little to late. Always make sure you have a set of snow chains in the car, this is actually a law in winter and the police do stop and check and can pass out fines if you do not have chains, mostly they will just turn you back and not allow you to pass.