The World’s Craziest Drivers

Gypsie greeting.
My wife, Ann, chats with gypsy welcome committee.

Imagine what it would be like if everyone drove like a 17-year-old boy with all his friends in the car.

Welcome to Romania.

To call Romanian drivers aggressive would be an understatement. Adventurous? A better word. Reckless? That may be the most accurate.

As soon as I pulled on the road outside the Bucharest airport I had people passing me in wildly dangerous places with no regard for what might be coming in the other direction. If the Romanians see driving as a measure of your manhood, I failed miserably. People rocketed past my car (Chevy Captiva diesel 5-speed) and glanced over as they passed. They must have expected to see an old woman behind the wheel and laughed as they left me in their dust.

Here in America you occasionally see a roadside memorial marking the spot of a highway tragedy. In Romania they are everywhere. The State Department says:

“According to the European Union Road Federation, Romania has the highest per vehicle rate of traffic fatalities of any country in the EU. It is essential for drivers to practice defensive driving techniques.”

And this:

“Traffic accidents are arguably the single most dangerous threat for American citizens visiting Romania.”

Nevertheless, I dipped my toe into the pool of Romanian road manners. This did not go well with my wife, Ann, who shut her eyes and yelled at me whenever I went to overtake one of the ancient Dacias that you see everywhere — or a horsedrawn cart, which you also see everywhere. “You do want to get there, don’t you?”

That earned me the look. You don’t want the look when you’re supposed to be enjoying yourself, do you?

As for the roads, don’t believe everything you see on a map. In the US you can reliably expect that roads shown on a map have relatively normal driving conditions. Assume nothing in Romania. For example, on the map the road from Fagaras to Apold looks perfectly normal — and for a few minutes it is until you get to the part with the giant potholes you need to drive around. Eventually the road just turns to dirt, where the only thing to worry about is the huge puddles. And dogs. And chickens. A depth meter would have been more useful than a GPS. I had neither.

Another fun fact: “The World Economic Forum ranks Romania 126 out of 134 states for road quality.”

By the way, traffic cirlces are also very big. Now I know where DOT got that idea.

11 thoughts on “The World’s Craziest Drivers

  1. So let me see if I get this right… you come to an underdeveloped country that spent 50 years in hardcore communism & poverty and has experienced democracy for a mear 20 years and start slamming away at it because it didn’t qualify to your standard of living and driving and who knows what? Now if anybody else would say what you say I wouldn’t even bother to write this message. You’re abolutely right… Romania is crap, but coming from an american I see this as the most offensive thing I’ve ever read. Being that your country is directly responsible for most of the poverty in the world, the useless wars, the economic paralyzation of most third world countries, having an illiterate and completely incompetent president elected for 8 years as the leader of the free world and so on and so on I sugest you at least inform yourself about the countries you visit so it won’t come as such a shock when you actually get there. In other words, you chose to visit a poor & undeveloped county…what did you expect to see? Be content that noone stole your car while you were there & that you got back home safely.

  2. Smith: thanks for commenting. I get your point, but disagree with you about what I wrote.

    My intent was to give people a sense of what it’s like to drive in Romania. There was no slamming or condemnation, just some observations about my experiences. I apologize if it came off differently.

    The guide books I read about Romania — none of them written by Americans — were much harsher than I in their description of the roads and the local drivers, so what I found wasn’t really a surprise. Nevertheless, driving there sometimes made me feel like I was in over my head. If anything it was humbling.

    I enjoyed every minute I spent in the country and never once — even for a brief second — looked down on what I saw around me. That despite being an American. 😉

    As for the eight years of George Bush, what can I say? All any of us can do is try to make a small difference in the little bit of the world we influence. That’s what helps me sleep at night.

  3. You left the National Road…… Always dicey. But I will repeat endlessly… Stay on the National and European Roads and they are no worse than a typical state highway in the USA. But that’s not always practical advise to follow if you need to get to a particular location.

    I have been there 6 times (three with a car rental) and I have driven to most areas of the country. I could certainly tell horror stories that can be blamed on the locals, as well as a few I brought on myself.


  4. I’ve been driving over there three times and yes, it’s bad, the Romanian roads are the worst roads I ever met in Europe, almost equal to Michigan roads. The difference between Romania and Michigan is that Michigan has freeways, while the Romanian freeways are almost zero (under 200 miles). And Romania’s size is double compared to MI size. As you say, I’ve seen dogs, but only by the shoulder, dead or (still) alive. No chickens or any other animals. And one more thing: the horse-traction wagons aren’t that many, but they are, even if the law had put an interdiction to them (they’re not allowed to travel on European Routes, State Routes and of course, on freeways).

  5. For any who have traveled from one country to another driving – right along with the language and currency-exchange – is always a notable experience. I can only imagine the experience a Romanian would have if they came to the US and drove on our interstates! Definitely bloggable!

    I know how wonderful your time in Romania was, how moved you all were in meeting relatives, how hospitable the Romanian people, and the lifetime impact on you and your family.

    If Smith could move beyond the political and media-fed views of the United States, he/she might come to realize that most Americans are not reflective of what is portrayed. While I can’t presume to understand his/her anger, I only hope that he can come to recognize and experience this difference.

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