Tips for driving in Crete and Cretan driving customs

Below, you can read a (humorous) practical guide to driving in Crete
Further down, a few (serious) words of advice

Greece competes with Portugal for the first place in the road accident statistics of the European Union. But it really isn't as bad as they make it. Driving here is safe and easy, as long as you understand the local driving code. Although the driving code is pretty much the same as in all other European countries, Crete is strong on tradition and the old driving code is still very much in force.

A quick guide to the Cretan driving code as well as a 'translation' of commonly used traffic signs:

Stop sign: slow down, look around a bit, there is a junction

Priority sign: hurry up someone might be coming

Orange traffic light: drive a little faster, otherwise you'll have to stop

Red traffic light: cross very carefully

Do not overtake sign: be careful when overtaking

Double white lines: do not position your vehicle entirely to the left of the lines when overtaking. Watch for oncoming cars.

Seat belts are compulsory and you can sometimes see Cretans wearing them

Please note: none of the above rules count if you ride a moped. Just go for it and hope for the best. But not to worry, in case of an accident the orthopedic and neurological units of the major hospitals have a lot of practice.

Helmets are required if you ride a moped or a motorbike - especially in cold and rainy weather. In sunny weather they are generally used as elbow protectors.

Drinking and driving: the police now have breathalysers. You are not allowed to drive if you have more than 0.5 mg of alcohol in your blood. In practice it is only frowned upon although things are getting tougher and some people really got into trouble. The only time where you can drink and drive without fear is on major holidays: the police quite rightly finds it in very poor taste to spoil the enjoyment of drivers on a feast day.

Driving on the National Road: The emergency lane is in fact used as a driving lane if you are being overtaken. If you insist on staying in the driving lane when someone wants to overtake, you will make some people really impatient. Anyway, it is not a polite thing to do.

Parking: until recently drivers didn't so much park as abandon their car whenever they felt like it. Things are changing in the cities and parking fines are pretty steep.

Passing through a flock of sheep: Cretans take their sheep seriously so don't mess with them (both I mean): if you have to pass through a flock of sheep, go slow and do not cross in the middle but try to make a way on either side of the road. If you try to pass in the middle, you will probably have to stop and wait it out.

Winding roads: it is usual for people to drive in the middle of the road, even if this one is narrow, so take care in corners. I was once given an interesting explanation for this curious driving behaviour: "if a car comes driving towards you, you always have somewhere to go to if you drive in the middle. If a car comes towards you whilst you are on your side of the road, your only escape is off the road". Ten years on and I am still trying to work out the logic of it!

Most of the above is meant to be humorous. It is a caricature but it reflects a certain reality of driving on Crete...now a few not-so-humorous words of warning...

The roads are not what you are used to in more developed (and flatter) countries and many drivers are not very good or attentive drivers so be really careful, attentive and drive defensively.
The part about driving in the emergency lane on the National road which runs along the North coast of the island is absolutely serious: if someone wants to overtake you, move into the emergency lane to give them space. Do not do it when the road curves to the right because you have no visibility and no place to go should someone be parked in the emergency lane.
Beware of animals on the road, especially goats and sheep. It is also not unusual for people to walk along the road at night dressed in dark colours

A special word of warning for those wanting to rent mopeds and motorbikes: Every year, a number of tourists get badly hurt. The main reason: they are allowed to rent a moped but have never ridden one or they have a motorbike license, unused for many years. Start very carefully if this is the case and then enjoy. How wonderful it is to ride in shorts and T-shirt, hair flying in the wind (remember Easy Rider?). But remember that if you fall off, even at low speed, in this unprotected attire, the rough surface of the road will take away your skin!
A smaller, common problem is burning your legs on the exhaust getting off the bike, because you are not used to riding in shorts.
Talking about burns, do not forget to put sun cream on your exposed parts, the sun is strong and you will not feel it whilst you are moving (and do not forget your hands, they sit on the handlebars and are the most exposed).

And finally, although Greece has a high accident rate, we have seen only few serious accidents, so it is not as bad as it may seem...if you take care.

Important update!

In its drive to reduce the appalling road accident statistics of Greece the government is (from time to time) cracking down on speeding, not wearing seat belts or crash helmets as well as drink driving. There can be a lot of police checks on major roads and tourists are not exempt from high fines if they are caught on the wrong side of the law. You have been warned.

Random road blocks are now common place late at night to check on drink drivers, even and maybe especially on feast days.

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Crete photo of the day
Crete Photo of the Day