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Driving in Poland – what are the rules?

Centuries of history, stunning cities and great major roads to drive on – Poland is well worth a visit. Here’s what to check, for you and your car, before you drive there.

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Would you count driving and history as being among your interests or loves? Well, don’t miss out on the chance to visit Poland then.

Thought to have been a haven for civilisation thousands of years, it has a more ‘recent’ Medieval history from where it got its name, thanks to the Polan people.

There are castles to see – including the world’s most complete and comprehensive Medieval example, Malbork – forests, lakes, rural villages and sprawling cities. And despite being badly damaged during the Second World War it has recovered to become a stable and welcoming democracy.

Its major cities – including Warsaw, Krakow, Gdansk and Lodz – provide excellent opportunities for business and industry. To its west lies Germany, to the east are Ukraine and Belarus, while in the north there’s a beautiful coastline and the Baltic Sea.

It might not be top of your list for a holiday, but Poland is well worth a look if you love touring by car. While some of the more rural roads can be potholed and poorly maintained, Poland’s major routes are excellent for a car journey. One of its many scenic routes is called the 100 Bends Road – a must for drivers, surely!

If you are one of many UK motorists who is considering Polish shores for a vacation this year, you’ll need some careful organisation before visiting. Getting there by car will involve traversing the whole of Germany as you head east, but that’s a decent European drive to enjoy if you have the time. Flying in and hiring a vehicle is another option.

Driving in Poland is a completely different experience from doing so in the UK. And that isn’t just because the Poles drive on a different side of the road from us.

It’s much more than that and planning a driving holiday, or taking your car to Poland on business, requires careful planning and a good understanding of what you can, and can’t do behind the wheel while there.

This isn’t just for your safety and convenience. Getting on the wrong side of the Polish police can mean on-the-spot fines, starting with relatively small ones for minor indiscretions but rising to steep penalties and even driving licence confiscation. So it’s well worth spending some time planning your trip, and making sure you have everything in place for your Continental excursion.

Here The Car Expert looks at the most important elements to consider when planning to drive in Poland, and we’ve included a handy checklist. As each journey is unique, always check that you have everything covered for your particular visit.

Basic rules

You must be 18 years or over to drive in Poland and you should hold a full UK driving licence. Just the licence card will do, as the paper counterpart is no longer a requirement. An international driving permit is recognised by the authorities, but it’s not a requirement.

You’ll need to prove that you have car insurance cover so take your certificate with you (but you don’t need a European ‘green card’) and you must carry with you documents that show the identity of the car, such as a V5 ‘logbook’. Always carry your personal ID or passport with you too.

The vehicle’s ‘home country’ must be shown on it. Most people today have the ‘UK’ letters and the Union Flag incorporated into the vehicle’s number plates but if you don’t have these, you must affix a ‘UK’ sticker to the rear of the vehicle. The ‘GB’ badge is no longer allowed, even within European ‘golden stars’ and the same goes for country badges such as the English, Scottish or Welsh flags.

Speed limits

Speed limits are shown in kilometres (km/h) rather than miles (mph). It’s very slow in residential zones – 20km/h (12mph), while for built-up areas the speed limit varies according to the time: 50 km/h (31mph) between 5am and 11pm and 60km/h (37mph) between 11pm and 5am.

Moving out of built-up areas and onto more open roads the limit rises but again there are variations of between 90km/h (56mph) and 120km/h (75mph) so keep an eye out for local roadside signs. Motorways have a blanket 140km/h (87mph) top limit with a 40km/h (25mph) minimum regulation.

You’re not allowed any kind of speed camera or radar detection equipment when driving on Polish roads. Likewise, if your satnav unit shows where speed cameras are sited, you must de-activate this function as it’s illegal.

New speeding fines came into operation in Poland in 2022 and they were much steeper than before. If you are stopped for speeding you will likely get an on-the-spot fine, and police patrols who are out looking for speeders, have increased.

Fines vary depending on your speed and start at 50 Zloty or zl (£10) for a minor transgression of up to 10km/h over the speed limit and rise steadily in severity as the speed goes up. Get stopped at more than 40km/h over the limit and you could be looking at a 1000 zl (£180) fine, while 60km/h above the top end could mean a 2000 zl (£360) penalty.

Blood alcohol limits

We don’t recommend any drinking of alcohol if you are going to drive but it’s worth knowing the limits. The drink drive limit is 0.2 g/l (also shown as 0.2 milligrams or 0.02%). This is a very small amount and the police take a hard line on drink driving, so be careful even when you are getting behind the wheel ‘the next morning’. For comparison, the limit is 0.8 g/l (0.8 milligrams or 0.08%) in England and Wales, and 0.5g/l (0.5 milligrams or 0.05%) in Scotland.

The Polish police can ask you take a random breath test at any time, but you will certainly be tested if there has been a car accident or if you have committed a serious motoring offence.

What to carry in the car

There are several things you’ll need in your vehicle while motoring through Poland, both for your safety and to ensure you keep on the right side of the authorities. These include a warning triangle and a reflective jacket which you should wear if you break down on a major route outside of urban areas or when visibility is reduced. Failure to have these could result in on-the-spot fines.

You will also be required to have a fire extinguisher and, although it’s not compulsory, it’s worth investing in a first aid kit.

You don’t have to carry spare bulbs, but the police do insist that you have beam deflectors (or the ability to manually adjust your lights) to avoid dazzling other road users.

Specialist suppliers, such as motoring organisations, sell ‘European driving kits’ for around £25, which contain everything you are likely to need for a continental road trip, and it’s well worth buying one.

Seatbelt and other rules

Seatbelt rules are the same as in the UK: if your car has them, they must be worn. It’s the driver’s responsibility to make sure everyone is buckled up and there’s a 100 zl (£20) fine for not wearing one.

Children under 12 years old and less than 150 cm in height must be in an approved child seat in the front or back of the car. If your car has airbags in the front (and most do) it is forbidden to place a rear facing baby restraint on the front passenger seat.

Driving

Keep to the right-hand lane as much as possible but if you are overtaking do so on the left.

Overtake only when you are sure it is safe to do so, but never attempt to pass someone if you are at an intersection, by a bus or tram stop, approaching a railway crossing, a pedestrian crossing or a cycle crossing.

You may overtake trams but ensure that if another tram is approaching, your car is not driving over its rails. Never try to drive between a tram and its pedestrian island if passengers are getting on or off. Trams have priority over all other traffic. The same is not applicable for buses but watch carefully for them – they tend to pull out with little regard for cars. 

Traffic signals are red, amber and green and follow a similar pattern to the UK. However, a green light that shows at the same time as a red light means that you can turn into another street (shown by an arrow), but you must give way to pedestrians.

Horns should be used sparingly – indeed they are prohibited in towns, unless it’s an emergency.

Petrol, diesel, and LPG is widely available throughout the country, and there are many electric vehicle (EV) charging points in larger towns and cities. Most fuel stations are open from 8am to 7pm although in larger towns you will find 24-hour services.

Motorways in Poland are paid for with money collected through tolls. There is no electronic system controlling this, so be prepared to pay at toll booths along the way. Trucks and buses do have electronic devices however and the same applies if you are towing a caravan so check for this before you set off with a rig. Toll fees vary according to the road used, the length of journey and the emissions of your vehicle.

You can get to most places on more minor roads that avoid the M-ways, but these rural routes can be in poor condition with potholes and broken surfaces, so dial that into your journey considerations.

If you are towing a trailer or caravan ensure that your car and the rig don’t exceed 18.75 metres in length, 4 metres in height and 2.55 metres in width. Make sure you can see clearly behind you with the use of two wide rear-view mirrors. Carry with you a list of your caravan or trailer contents – this will assist customs officers and should ensure you a smoother passage.

Parking

Look for parking restriction signs before you pull up anywhere. Most cities will have restrictions and fees to pay before parking. Much of the payment is collected using parking meters although the bigger cities will often feature manned car parks with various ways to pay.

If you find somewhere to park for free that’s great – but don’t leave your car if it looks like you’re causing an obstruction or danger to others. Illegally parked cars may well be wheel clamped by the authorities but often, badly parked vehicles will simply be towed away. There will be a fine to pay for a vehicle’s release plus costs for the towing.

Emergency number

In Poland as with most of Europe, you can dial 112 and make contact with emergency services such as fire, ambulance or police, 24 hours a day. Operators will speak English, French and other European languages.

Checklist

Must haves:

  • Driving licence
  • Passport
  • Vehicle insurance
  • MOT certificate
  • V5 or vehicle ID
  • UK sticker or number plate markings
  • Warning triangle
  • Headlamp beam deflectors
  • Hi-viz jackets
  • Fire extinguisher

Options:

  • First aid kit
  • Spare bulb kit
  • Screen wash
  • Bottled water
  • Map or satnav
  • Phone power bank
  • Torch
  • Fuel can


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Tom Johnston
Tom Johnstonhttp://johnstonmedia.com/
Tom Johnston was the first-ever reporter on national motoring magazine Auto Express. He went on to become that magazine’s News Editor and Assistant Editor, and has also been Motoring Correspondent for the Daily Star and contributor to the Daily and Sunday Express. Today, as a freelance writer, content creator and copy editor, Tom works with exciting and interesting websites and magazines on varied projects.