Driving & Road Safety - Advice on driving in Bulgaria

The number of serious accidents and the death toll from them over the last few years has remained high. In 1999, there were 7,586 serious accidents which resulted in 1,047 deaths. In 2000, there were 6,886 accidents, in which 1,012 people were killed. In 2001, there were 6,709 serious road accidents with 1,011 fatalities.

Heavy truck traffic along the two-lane routes from the Greek border at Kulata to Sofia and from the Turkish border at Kapitan Andreevo to Plovdiv creates numerous hazards. Motorists should expect long delays at border crossings. 

Persons operating vehicles with foreign license plates frequently complain of being stopped by police and being fined on the spot for offences that they have not committed.

To drive in Bulgaria you can use your national license preferably accompanied by an international one. Road signs follow international standards. On-the-spot fines are in operation for speeding, drink driving, not having the correct documents, etc. If you leave your passport with a hotel reception ask for a copy (or the original) if intending to drive a rental car.

Use common sense and don't park in restricted zones even if it seems as if everyone else does. The Sofia City Council is hot on the heels of their Western counterparts with yellow wheel clamps, and if that's not enough, they'll tow your car away, usually to the parking lot behind the National Palace of Culture. 

The use of seat belts is mandatory in Bulgaria. Child car seats are required by law, but only on the back seats. Speed limits are 50 KM/H in the cities/towns, 90 KM/H out of town and 120 KM/H on the highways. The same speed limits apply for motorcycles; motorcyclists must drive with helmets and with lights on at all times. At crossings that are not regulated, the driver who is on the right has the right-of-way, but this rule is frequently ignored.

Drivers may be charged with driving under the influence of alcohol with a blood level as low as 0.05%. Right turns on red lights are not permitted unless specifically authorized. The penalties for drivers involved in an accident resulting in injury or death range from a $25 (US) fine up to imprisonment for life.

Motorists should avoid confrontations with aggressive drivers in Bulgaria. Drivers of late-model sedans (BMW, Mercedes, Audi) are known to speed and drive dangerously. Motorists should exercise caution and not engage in altercations with the drivers of such vehicles because some are armed organized crime figures.

Use common sense and don't park in restricted zones even if it seems as if everyone else does. The Sofia City Council is hot on the heels of their Western counterparts with yellow wheel clamps, and if that's not enough, they'll tow your car away, usually to the parking lot behind the National Palace of Culture. 

It might also be useful to know that if someone flashes their lights at you it means that they expect you to get out of the way and not that they are going to let you go first. It also is also the all-Bulgarian warning: Police ahead!

Drive on the right, overtake on the left, cross only when the traffic light is green, give right of way to vehicles approaching from the right at crossroads and to buses in urban areas. 

Please bear in mind that horse-drawn carts, motorcycles and scooters can sometimes be found on major roads driving at night without lights. Please be very alert when driving at night.

Jaywalking is frequent. Please be very careful while driving in cities and drive as slowly as possible.

In case of emergency, drivers should contact the police at telephone number 166 and/or the Roadside Assistance at telephone number 146. For an ambulance, please call 150.

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