On my Romania trip I rented a car in Brasov go on an epic Transylvania road trip. Renting a car in Romania is the easy part, but driving in Romania is a completely different ballgame from driving in North America or even Western Europe.
Driving in Romania is one of the craziest, and funnest things I’ve ever done.
It is completely unlike driving anywhere in Canada or the United States and something that definitely should be experienced anytime you’re visiting this beautiful southern European country.
10 Life-Saving Tips for Driving in Romania
Whether you’re driving to experience more of Bucharest or you want to leave Brasov and had to the famous Transfagarasan Highway you will quickly realize that everything you learn about driving in Western Europe or North America should be thrown out the window.
As a country with some of the most accidents per driver in all of Europe, Romania is both an unsafe and exhilarating place to drive. Now, I don’t want you to think that it’s dangerous to drive here but if you drive the same way you do at home then sure, it’s going to be really unsafe.
Keep Your Eyes on the Road
The best way to prepare yourself for driving Romania is to always be alert and expect absolutely anything to happen. This means you need to avoid texting or taking photos behind the wheel at all costs because in a split second the flow of traffic in front of you can change drastically.
Whether someone is trying to make a turn or simply not staying in their lane for the reason anytime your eyes are on the road your chances of getting into an accident dramatically increase. This is a global driving safety tip but in cities in North America and Western Europe other drivers are more courteous so you don’t have to worry as much but here in Romania that’s not the case.
Drive Aggressively (Assert Yourself and Stand Your Ground)
This might sound counterintuitive but if you are passive driver in Romania you are going to have a bad time. Driving aggressively is the norm, whether you’re on a country road or in a major city, and if the only way to get anywhere you’re going without putting yourself in danger. I don’t mean that you should drive recklessly but you need to ensure you’re noticed on the roads.
Passive drivers won’t be able to change lanes quickly, choose the right exit in roundabouts or get where they’re going safely simply because no one else will let you unless you assert yourself on the road. What might be an attempt to cut someone off back home is the way lane changes and turns are done in Romania.
This also applies to highway driving. Many of the highways in Romania are a single lane in each direction. This means that if you’re driving slowly or trying to enjoy the scenery traffic will start to build up behind you and if you’re not going at least 20 to 30 km over the speed limit you are considered a nuisance and a bad driver.
Watch Out For Carriages
Anywhere that you are driving in the country, even in Bucharest, you are definitely going to come across a horse-drawn carriage. While this isn’t the 1800s people still use horses and wooden carriages as their main mode of transportation, especially in more rural areas like in Transylvania.
Be prepared to come to a complete stop rather quickly or swerve into oncoming traffic to avoid the slow-moving carriage. In some cases there will be 10 feet of hay or other materials packed onto the carriage and you won’t be able to see ahead of it. In cases like this need to remember to drive aggressively and overtake the carriage so that traffic doesn’t build up behind you.
Outside of Bucharest Anything Goes
Only in Romania’s capital city of Bucharest to people somewhat follow the rules of the road. I think this is because of the high amount of traffic police patrolling the city but once you leave the city limits and you’re in the countryside you are unlikely to ever see police again. It’s not like in Canada where there are speed traps every 30 to 50 km, you will literally hardly ever see police.
What this means is that other drivers will be driving how they feel like driving depending on how quickly they need to reach their destination. Signalling, using lights at night and obeying road signs rarely happens so you always need to be prepared and never make assumptions about the person driving in front of you.
I’ve seen drivers come to a complete stop from 130 km/h and then reverse on a highway to get off on their correct exit and it’s a common sight to see high speed overtakes of three or more cars on blind corners in the rain. As I mentioned before you want to drive aggressively to avoid getting into any accidents or mishaps with other drivers because passive drivers will dangerously get in the way.
When The Coast is Clear – GO!
Another thing that you won’t find in most of Romania are four-way stop signs. Right-of-way driving also doesn’t apply here so whenever you have a space, no matter how small it is, you need to take the chance and just go. Drivers will expect you to cut them off, especially in busy cities and will react accordingly.
If you wait too long you’ll definitely get honked at and people won’t even overtake you on residential, one-way streets. It’s like the wild West in Romania and by driving too slowly you risk having an angry driver cut you off, get out of the car with the bat or metal rod and start threatening you. So, it’s best to hurry along and not take your time in residential areas especially.
Have Faith in Other Drivers
while all of this might seem crazy, especially counting on other drivers to not crash into you, you have to realize that the people living here have been dropping like this their entire lives. After spending years driving on remaining roads nothing is surprising anymore and the drivers here Romania are extremely skilled compared to those in Canada or the United States.
It isn’t until you’ve seen a four lane wide roundabout or watched a car clearly built in the 1970s overtake a lineup of two trucks and for other cars while on a blind turn at night that you will come to respect the way Romanians drive and stop worrying about whether or not you’re going to get into an accident. It might seem crazy at first but there is some order in the chaotic experiences you’ll have on the road.
Slow Down When Driving through Villages
One of the best things you can do to avoid accidents when driving on rural roads is to slow down and actually observe the speed limit, or as close to it as other drivers will let you, when entering and driving through a village. Unless you are on one of the few multilane motorways you’re going to like the driving on a two lane highway with only a single lane in either direction. Anything that gets in your way or becomes a hazard on the road is going to affect both you and all of the people behind you.
Most of the hazards and problems you experience driving in Romania will occur in these village chokepoints where the roads are narrow and traffic slows down quite a bit. There will be children playing in the street, people looking to hitchhike somewhere else in the country, livestock crossing the road with no regard for traffic, carriages and a wide array of other hazards that are simply unpredictable. The best way to stay safe when you’re driving through these villages is to slow down and keep an eye out for anything dangerous on the road ahead of you.
Slowing down and being careful is counterintuitive to the Romanian way of driving but this is the only time you want to practice safe driving techniques that you bring with you from home. As soon as you leave the village limits you can speed up again and you can expect the angry drivers behind you to aggressively overtake.
Be Careful When You Park
Parking in Romanian cities is another absolutely crazy experience. If you can’t parallel park, don’t worry, people in Romania tend to park wherever they want, as long as there is enough space to get the car in. Everywhere you go you will see cars precariously parked on sidewalks, on the far edges of roads and even on those grass patches between someone’s property and the road itself.
Your best bet is to look for a dedicated parking space were you can pay a uniformed attendant. These lots are typically guarded and your car is safe from damage or theft as long as it’s in a legitimate lot. If you see people, usually young gypsy kids, asking for money to park in a public space I highly recommend looking for somewhere else park as these areas our troublesome and nicer cars parked here are targeted by thieves.
Use Your Hazard Lights to Thank Other Drivers
rather than the typical hand wave that is done in Canada and the United States drivers in Romania well throw on their hazard lights for a few blanks to let you know they are thankful for your actions. Whether you are letting someone to make a turn or pulling to the side of the road to let them a pass you can expect a quick succession of three or four hazard light blinks.
Whenever you need to thank another driver just throw on your hazard lights and they will get the message. It’s a way of showing respect to the other driver and thanking them.
Use a Social GPS App
many drivers in Romania like to use a social GPS app to add information about the road and other hazards up ahead in order to inform other drivers using the same app. The most popular one is called Waze and it can be used as both a GPS and a way to find out about traffic or any other issues on the highway or road you’re driving on.
It’s also used to warn of any police or speed traps up ahead on the road. With so many aggressive and speeding drivers it’s no surprise that this is a popular app and if you use it you will see a lot of detailed information regarding the drive to your destination. You can also confirm or give a thumbs up to the info on the app and this will help other drivers have a better ride as well.
General Helpful Tips
- Pull to the right as far as safety possible if another driver wishes to overtake
- Use your hazard lights if you are slowing down on the highway to make a turn onto a smaller road
- Use your hazard lights if there are any obstacles on the road ahead of you
- Signal the direction you wish to travel in a traffic circle
- Stick to the far right of a traffic circle for the most flexibility
- Keep an eye out for wild dogs in the city and rural areas
- Never reacted negatively to aggressive drivers unless you want a confrontation
- Stay calm and plan your route ahead of time
And that’s how you stay safe and alive when it comes to driving in Romania. Having driven over 2500 km so far I’m nowhere near an expert but I’ve learned enough to keep out of trouble and remain safe on the roads.
Driving in Canada, especially my hometown Toronto, is a dream compared to what it’s like driving here in Romania. Straight, well marked roads, drivers that give you loads of space, wide, multilane highways and a lack of anything really interesting to see make it really easy to drive in most of Canada but I don’t think I would ever trade it for the fun and chaotic driving in urban and rural Romania