Wednesday, 25 August 2010

Driving in Poland

There are a couple of items on improving road safety in Poland on this morning. One is a about a blitz to improve the quality of roads over the next couple of years. There are some dreadful roads, but more amazing to me is the extreme rapidity with which road improvements are already taking place. When driving on roads in Poland that have been transformed beyond recognition from just a couple of years ago, I remember the years and years it took to build wide enough roads between London and Norfolk to deal with the traffic, and still not covering the entire route to Norwich and the north coast.

The second item covers concern that local councils are using road cameras to maximise income rather than to maximise safety. My own impression is that speed cameras on local roads are much better placed than on the national road system; perhaps this is just the nature of the local councils in the areas I tend to drive. Speed limit signage is roughly equally awful.

The extreme speed of Polish driving is a routine matter for comment. Following an item on W-wa Jeziorki, I tried to get an impression of Polish speed compared to Czech, Austria and Italy - the latter including quite a bit of urban driving. Trying to drive at the speed limit, I am normally one of the slowest on the road in Poland, but I was one of the fastest on the road in the other countries. This was especially clear in areas with low speed limits. I was very disappointed to find that the legendary appalling driving of Italians was nowhere to be seen. I think the difference is that people in these countries drive with full consciousness of the speed that they should be driving at, even if they decide to ignore it. In Poland, people drive at the speed they consider themselves to be appropriate for the conditions with no concern for what the authorities have decided is right - speed cameras are an obstruction, irrelevant to safety.

Having done all the speeding bit for years, I decided for various reasons some years ago to drive within the speed limit. I found this extraordinarily difficult in terms of getting the general feeling that I wasn't driving absurdly slow. However, I wasn't always sure what the speed limit was and people in the car with me never seemed to know either. Having driven across the border, I noticed the standard border speed notice by the road and was surprised to see that the daytime speed limit in built up areas was 50 kph, not 60 kph. I was so surprised that I doubted what I saw and checked with the regulars in a local bar. This resulted in a very heated argument around me, with one stubborn customer being assailed and insulted from all sides for daring to argue that I was right. He and I were right - it is 50, but just try doing it. Despite regular efforts to achieve this, I keep going back to 60. Even this has a queue of frustrated drivers behind me on single lane roads - I try to let them pass when I can, whilst on Warsaw's large 3 lane roads, I get the feeling that bicycles could pass me by - buses sometimes do.

From's article, it seems clear that the government is not trying to encourage driving at safe speeds generally, but just wishes to reduce the worst effects of this at the worse places. I wonder whether this is the right approach.

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