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DRIVING

car

 

Greece perennially has the worst road accident statistics in Europe. Road deaths are roughly three times that of England per capita, and with significantly lower traffic volumes. Should it ever lose this dubious distinction it is unlikely to be the fault of anyone here on Crete. The main reason for this is very evidently, the poor standard of driving, which tends by varying degrees towards a macho, ghung ho kind of style. Driving laws, speed limits and signage are little different from anywhere else in Europe. The problem in Crete is the rather limited regard that anybody has for them. Years of occupation by foreign powers has cultivated a rebellious streak in the Cretan consciousness, that is very slow to dissipate even though the occupying powers are now long gone. The wearing of crash helmets, for example is compulsory, yet casual observation shows very few people abide by this law. This is not because it is uncomfortable to wear a helmet in hot weather, it’s rather because they just do not like being told what to do. Such rebellion in northern Europe would turn into a very expensive hobby, so it seems reasonable to conclude from this that policing of the roads is somewhat less than enthusiastic.

The condition of the roads themselves are also a contributing factor, as perhaps unsurprisingly they fall below the standards of most Western European countries, though they are improving, thanks to grants from the EU.
This state of affairs though may be set to change. Spurred on by the shame of constantly topping the league table for road accident statistics, the Greek government has launched a new initiative to reduce accidents. The thrust of this initiative is heavy fines, for example, up to 700 euro for failing to stop at a stop sign, and a punitive points system that can result in a lifetime ban. Whether this is enforced to the point where it changes driving habits remains to be seen. Be warned however that tourists have always been favoured above locals, by the police when it comes to traffic violations.

Despite this rather black picture, it is possible to enjoy driving around Crete in reasonable safety, and driving is undoubtedly the best and most convenient way of enjoying the Cretan countryside. Adopt a cautious and patient approach, and maintain a higher level of alertness than you normally would. Expect the unexpected at all times, and you should avoid finding out if your EHIC card really works.

 

DRIVING LAWS

You can drive in Crete with an EU driving licence. The minimum age for hiring a car varies between 21 and 25. Driving law, road markings, and vehicle safety standards are pretty much the same as the rest of Europe. The following is a list of laws that are likely to be of immediate concern to tourists, particularly since they will not be obvious from observation of local habits. . -
Seat belts including rear seat belts are compulsory.
Wearing of crash helmets on motorcycles is compulsory.
Drink driving is illegal. Limit is 0.50mg.
Using a mobile, other than blue tooth whilst driving is illegal.
Stopping at stop signs is obligatory.
Speed limits unless otherwise indicated are 50 kph in built up areas and 90 kph on the highway
Driving in Crete is on the right (not always immediately obvious as most locals show a marked preference for the centre of the road ).

DRIVING TIPS

The national road that runs along the north coast has a lane on the right bounded by an unbroken white line. This is an emergency lane and technically it is illegal to use, or park in it unless you have broken down. In practice it is used as an overtaking lane, and you are expected to pull into it to allow faster traffic to pass. Be aware though that on rounding a blind corner this lane may disappear, or have a vehicle parked in it.
The national road is the main place you will come across double unbroken white lines in the middle of the road. Here in Crete as elsewhere it is illegal to cross these lines. However as you round blind corners to face a variety of oncoming lunatics you will soon become aware that this is a law that has yet to become universally popular.
hairpinThe national road is also the location of choice for speed traps.
Saturday nights here, as the world over, unless you're a taliban, sees the local populace out on the razz enjoying a drink or two. Enforcement of drink driving laws has not so far been particularly enthusiastic, and neither has observance of them, so be particularly careful if driving on Saturday nights, when the already low driving standards take a further dip.
Once you leave the north coast the roads deteriorate in size and quality and start zigzagging up and down the mountainous interior. The use of armco barriers to prevent fatal falls is fairly minimal so exercise particular care when using mountain roads. The fact that these roads are totally unsuitable for heavy goods vehicles and buses, is seen more as a challenge than an imposition, so if you hear a horn when approaching a blind bend, this will indicate that a large vehicle will be coming towards you on your side of the road. Conversely, if you don't hear a horn when approaching blind bends, this is still not a contingency you can entirely rule out.
Sheep and goats are also very prevalent on these roads, and have a contemptuous disregard for the highway code, or the outcome of any interaction between themselves and motor vehicles.
Parking is becoming increasingly difficult in the larger cities and restrictions are in force
so watch out for signs. In Chania the car park by the harbour is currently free of charge, but is patrolled by wardens who issue tickets for cars not parked within marked bays. Which is bad news, if like me you are an exponent of "creative" parking. If you have a hire car, you will have given your credit card details to the hire company, who will charge your card in the event you leave a parking ticket unpaid, or indeed any other fine.

Speed cameras have been installed on the National Road over the last few years. There are usually two warning signs in the kilometer or so before the camera, but the cameras themselves tend to be hidden behind foliage or road signs.

NEW HIGHWAY CODE FINES

As from 3rd. June 2007 a new highway code was introduced in Greece, of which Crete is a part, in an attempt to cut road accidents. The following maximum fines were introduced, and may be of interest if you intend driving.

Going through a red light 700euro

Not stopping at a stop sign 700euro

Crossing a double white line 700euro

Illegal parking on national road 700euro

Not wearing seat belt 350euro

Not wearing crash helmet 350euro

Using mobile other than bluetooth 100euro
I'm indebted to the Crete Gazette for their translation of the following offence and fine:-
Driver enjoying hanky panky with glamorous passenger 200euro

 

 

 

ROAD SIGNS

Road signs are almost invariably in both Greek and English, and generally you will shrine come across the Greek version first, then some yards later the English version. Unfortunately the English spelling of place names is not very consistent as there isnt any standard for transliterating the Greek alphabet into the English one, so a bit of lateral thinking is sometimes required.

Many of the road signs you come across, particularly out in the country have holes in them. This is not an exercise in aerodynamics, the holes are exactly what they look like, bullet holes. Consistent with the Cretan freedom ethic, gun ownership and target practice remain high, in readiness to repel the next foreign invader, however unlikely that may be.
Another common roadside feature are the shrines. Again the explanation for these is the obvious one. They are erected in memory of road accident victims, and I’m reliably informed that there is no connection between the two.

MOTORCYCLES

motorbike

Motorcycles provide an excellent means of getting about the island, but offer very obviously more limited protection in the event of an accident. If it is some years since you last rode, then this may not be the best place to rekindle your interest, but with a realistic approach to your abilities and suitable caution a bike can be much more enjoyable way of seeing the island than from the constraints of a car.  
As previously mentioned, helmets are a legal requirement, despite visual evidence to the contrary, though I have noticed a new trend amongst the locals to wear them on their elbows. Insist on a properly fitting helmet from the hirer, or take your custom elsewhere. There is certainly no shortage of these outlets. Clothing in a climate such as this will always be a compromise between protection and comfort. I would recommend jeans and a pair of shoes, possibly trainers and a long sleeved top. You can always carry shorts and a t-shirt to change into. The two things you need to protect against are sliding down the tarmac whilst saying goodbye to a precious coating of skin, and the sun. The sun can be deceptive on a motorcycle as the cooling breeze tends to mask its power.
The mountains of Crete are proper mountains that rise steeply upwards to the top, and drop steeply downwards on the other side. If you intend to negotiate these two up, and possibly with luggage, then you need to hire a machine with sufficient power.