First off, throw all preconceived notions about orderly, courteous driving out the window. That shit has no place in the former Yugoslavia. Instead, think like a seven-year-old that stole their parents cars keys and decided to go for a joy ride in the family vehicular device. Bear in mind, seven-year-old you can sometimes reach the gas pedal, and other times you can’t. Seven-year-old you can barely see out of the car, so swerving all over the road is a distinct possibility. And all operations of the car are foreign to you as you blissfully attempt to navigate narrow, heavily clogged roadways.
Please enjoy these nine instructional points for how to drive like a Balkan:
#1: Turning is apparently far more challenging than I ever imagined
Turning should be easy… one applies some light braking, whatever is necessary to safely round the corner, illuminate the turn indicator, turn the wheel, and accelerate through the turn at a reasonable speed, and don’t hit pedestrians. Done. Nope. In the Balkans, one should slam on their brakes, coming nearly to a stop, and proceed to VERY SLOWLY make the turn, brakes pressed the entire time. If you are behind someone making a turn, be prepared to slam on your brakes as well, potentially being subjected to whip lash since you certainly weren’t ready for the panic braking. Oh, and never expect turn signals. That is far too much effort.
#2: Speed bumps are an invitation to stop in the middle of the road
Much like turning, speed bumps are formidable in these Slavic States. Apparently. No matter the height of the bump, driver’s must (again) slam on their brakes in order to navigate over the rather diminutive protrusion in the roadway designed to slow traffic down a LITTLE bit. Fine, slow the speedily moving vehicles down, but you fuckers don’t need to completely STOP. It interferes with the flow of traffic and causes anyone behind them to suffer from whip lash yet again.
#3: Pedestrians and other cars are objects that one should drive at instead of avoiding
I don’t recall how many times while walking through these four countries that we observed drivers navigating at us, instead of giving us a wide berth. Not only that, rubber necking had a new meaning here. Vehicle operators would see another car and drive at it. There is one exception here… Pedestrians in the cross-walk, specifically. Drivers will stop on a dime if you’re using the marked paths. I’ve never seen anything like it. We wouldn’t even be in the crosswalk yet, perched near the edge of the sidewalk waiting for a break in traffic, and the oncoming cars would come to a screeching halt to allow us safe passage across the roadway.
#4: Overtaking other vehicles is in invitation to drive in the opposing lane of travel, even around blind curves
Much like in the States, the center line becomes dashed when it is safe to overtake a slow moving car obstructing your forward momentum. However, if you haven’t already noticed a reckless driving trend in this post, you may be able to guess that these laws are generally not followed to a ‘T’. In fact, drivers took an insane delight in passing car(s) in some of the most dangerous places: Blind curve and/or hill, when other vehicles are rapidly approaching in the opposing lane of travel, passing of multiple cars at once when the open lane for doing so was very small, on the side of a narrow mountain road with or without curve. Anyway, you get the gist.
#5: Stop signs are most assuredly a suggestion
While this is also common in the US, Balkan residents obviously had to take this to a new, more dangerous level. Not only is the presence of a stop sign essentially useless, but the drivers also tended towards not even glancing at oncoming traffic before carelessly pulling out into traffic. Those that did venture a look, typically did not seem to care, and would oftentimes pull onto the road anyway.
#6: Roundabouts are a clusterfuck
Roundabouts are a fucking free for all. If you are in the wrong lane in order to make your exit from the circle, never fear! Just dart across all lanes of traffic without a turn signal, cutting off any vehicles in your path to make your exit. This happened more times than I could count. Lane lines may as well not be painted on the pavement (and sometimes weren’t).
#7: Mercedes drivers fall into one of two categories, and there is no in between.
Category One: Old men out for a sloooow Sunday drive. Category Two: Psychotic speed demon with uncontrollable anger issues while driving in heavy traffic. That is all.
#8: Bikes, horse drawn carriages, and pedestrians all share the road
This is regardless of the existence of sidewalks. Contrary to what common sense would dictate, we watched a decrepit old man with a cane ambling down the middle of the road that was packed with swiftly moving cars. Be prepared for women toting strollers (complete with babies), and motorized wheelchairs that apparently don’t care about their welfare weaving in and out of traffic as well. Real life Frogger!
#9: Traffic laws, and generally courteous, rules of the road do not apply
Well, now that I think of it, this one’s redundant. Reading all the other points should make #9 obvious.
Moral of the Story: Most non-observant Americans could never drive over there. EVER. With their penchant for staring at an electronic communication device all whilst trying to apply lipstick while operating a motor vehicle in heavy traffic… you see where this is going. They’d be paying for the entire rental car by the end after they wrecked it in a fiery crash. Being highly trained to drive safely, but also aggressively, it only took a short time for me to adapt. But don’t you worry, it was still challenging. And frustrating… definitely frustrating.
Given the completely erratic driving, you’d think we would have seen a multitude of traffic accidents. Thankfully, the Balkan motorists are remarkably vigilant with regards to watching out for other automobilists. In three weeks, we only witnessed a single fender-bender.