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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

TRAFFIC SAFETY AND ROAD CONDITIONS

While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Romania is provided for general reference only, and may not be totally accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
Traffic accidents are arguably the single most dangerous threat for American citizens visiting Romania. The World Economic Forum ranks Romania 126 out of 134 states for road quality. Currently Romania has a total of only 270 kilometers of freeways. While major streets in larger cities and major inter-city roads are generally in fair to good condition, many other roads are in poor repair, unpaved, badly lighted, or narrow, or lack marked lanes. Part of the problem is that the infrastructure has failed to keep pace with the dramatic increase in motor vehicles since 1990.
Roads, especially in the mountains, can be particularly dangerous when wet or covered with snow or ice. Pedestrians, animals, cyclists, and horse-drawn carts share many roads with motor vehicles and can be extremely difficult to see, particularly at night in rural areas. Vehicles often block sidewalks, forcing pedestrians to walk in the streets. Maintain vigilance when driving to avoid hitting those who are walking in the streets. Cross the street only in crosswalks and always look both ways before crossing. Crosswalks are generally poorly marked and drivers may ignore crosswalks even if there is a traffic light.
Driving practices in Romania can be aggressive and/or inattentive. Combined with the substandard road conditions noted above, the result is a significant traffic mortality rate. According to the European Union Road Federation, Romania has the highest per vehicle rate of traffic fatalities of any country in the E.U. It is essential for drivers to practice defensive driving techniques.
Romanian traffic laws are very strict. The traffic police can confiscate any form of driver's license or permit for 1-3 months, and payment of fines may be requested at the time of the infractions. Some examples when this might occur are failure to yield the right of way, failure to stop at a red light or stop sign, or failure to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks. While, in theory, drivers must yield to pedestrians at all marked pedestrian crosswalks, many of these are poorly maintained, difficult to see, and sometimes located in unexpected places for foreign drivers. Pedestrians must take extreme caution when crossing any road.
Romanian traffic laws provide for retention of a driver’s license by the police and possible imprisonment for driving under the influence of alcohol or for causing an accident resulting in injury or death. There is zero tolerance for driving under the influence of alcohol and police are required to give breathalyzer tests on the scene to all drivers involved in an accident. Refusal to take a breathalyzer test will result in criminal penalties regardless of whether or not alcohol was involved.
U.S. driver's licenses are only valid in Romania for up to 90 days. Before the 90-day period has expired, U.S. citizens must either obtain an international driving permit in addition to their U.S. driver's license or a Romanian driver's license. Wearing a seat belt is mandatory. Children under 12 years of age may not be transported in the front seat.
Unless otherwise marked with road signs, speed limits are as follows:
Inter-city traffic on highways
130 km/hr for cars and motorcycles (80 miles/hr)
110 km/hr for vans (65 miles/hr)
Urban traffic - 50 km/hr (30 miles/hr)
Express and European roads
100 km/hour for cars and motorcycles (60 miles/hr)
90 km/hour for vans (55 miles/hr)
All other roads
90 km/hr for cars and motorcycles (55 miles/hr)
80 km/hr for vans (50 miles/hr)
Motor vehicles with trailers and drivers with less than one year of driving experience have speed limits 20 km/hr (or 12 miles) slower than those listed above.
Inter-city travel is generally done via trains and buses, which vary in terms of quality, safety, cost, and reliability. Pickpockets pose a danger on night trains and in train stations. Inter-city travel by taxi is much more expensive, and safety depends on the quality of the driver. Many older taxis are not equipped with seat belts. To avoid being overcharged, passengers should request the taxi by phone through a reputable company and make sure the taxi has an operational meter or agree upon a price before entering the taxi. The meter rate per km is posted on both sides of the taxi vehicle.
The host country authority responsible for road safety is the Traffic Police of the Romanian Ministry of Interior . Emergency roadside help and information may be reached by dialing 9271 for vehicle assistance and towing services. For ambulance services, fire brigade, or police, dial 112.

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