Greece offers one of the safest environments for a relaxing holiday. The Mediterranean, the way of life, the scenery, the people, the mountains, the crystal clear beaches, the food and altogether experiencing and celebrating life the Greek way makes every holiday a memorable one. Often the worst thing that can happen to a holiday maker is to get lost in a maze of village cottages walking in the hot sun on the cobbled donkey paths with almost every villager inviting you in for a cold drink and a make shift singe language assisted chat.
Greece, unfortunately, does suffer from one of the highest road accident rates in Europe. This is often blamed on the bad road conditions, the quality of cars on the road, drink driving and not adhering to the basic safety regulations by the vehicle users. Long driving hours and driver tiredness, although often underestimated is also a major factor which contributes to the tragic statistics. In recent years the authorities and the law enforcement units have stringently, with some success, tried to turn the numbers around. Now, over three years into the government's anti-collision campaign, Greece has witnessed its first sustained period of systematic reductions in traffic accidents and fatalities. However, the country's deadly crashes still far exceeds the European average.
For a country that receives more visitors annually than the local population, it could be assumed that the visitors, unfamiliar with the local roads, contribute highly to the number of accidents. This is not the case argues, General Lieutenant Konstantionos Frankos the chief Police officer of central Greece province of Magnisisa., “Driving code is one and the same at least amongst the European countries and as long as you respect the law of the motorway you are driving safely.” He stresses that the number of accidents involving foreigners are not un-proportionately high. “Visitors, seem to be naturally more conservative in their way of driving when on unfamiliar roads and this helps tremendously,” points out General Frankos.
Vassilis Tobekos is the head driving instructor of a major Volos driving school with many years of experience. He thinks holiday makers are in their own world and can't really pay enough attention to the way they drive. Vassilis says: I always tell my students to avoid them (tourist drivers). We love the tourists here but we also understand that they don't know their way around and may stop to check a map or make unexpected U-turns. All the drivers avoid my students whilst learning and we avoid the tourists, explains Vassilis with a smile.
Harry and Sue Ibberson from Nottingham have now been driving in Greece for over 10 months. We have driven through forest roads, villages, motorways and even the beach says proudly, Sue. “To be honest I don't know why they are no more accidents”', she admits contemplating. Harry finds driving in Greece needs more concentration than say in the U.K. but argues that in general driving standards are very good here. “I have driven in many European countries in the last few years and altogether find driving in Greece quite convenient and pleasurable, “he explains “that is of course excluding the major cities,” he stresses.
Bob from Netherlands, the manager of one of Pelion region's largest car and motorbike hire centers has similar views: “I have been operating for over five years now and I must say none of my cars have been involved in a serious accident. I got to spend a lot of time reminding my British clients which side of the road they should be driving. Poor things, they have to concentrate so much that they end up being the safest drivers around. My main advice to foreign drivers in Greece is not to take anything for granted. There are many unsafe surprises on rural roads including many four legged ones with their guard dogs chasing you away from the spot.”
Yanis from a Crete car rentals blames most of the island's accidents on the beautiful scenery. “ People love the stunning views of our islands and sometimes even the passengers distract the driver by pointing to interesting scenery. I always advice my client's to stop the car at a safe place, not on a corner, get out of the car and walk to the spot you love and watch as much as you want. You don't have to become a part of the scenery to enjoy it, try it from a distance” says Yanis.
The road with the most minor accidents on Corfu island is a long stretched tarmac street right over a topless beach. Because the road is higher than the beach, if a sunbather is lying on the sand she can't be seen from the road but when she stands up she creates a popup surprise which can suddenly distract the drivers. Here you go, another accident blamed on the women. For the sake of safety, maybe the authorities should consider diverting the road and making the area pedestrianised or entirely ban men drivers from the area.
You don't need to become a part of the scenery to enjoy it. Park somewhere safe and walk to the panoramic spot. You will enjoy it even more.
Watch out for the zigzagers. Due to the favorable climate there are more pedestrians and more motorbikes and bicycles. They usually come from all directions with little or no advance warning.
Flashed head lights, long or short means I am coming through. Contrary to the UK this means the driver is not giving way to you but alerting you that s/he is coming through.
Drink driving is no longer tolerated in Greece, if you are lucky you will be caught before you have an accident, and being a foreign national or being on holiday is not going to help avoid the penalties which are losing your license for a period depending on the level of the alcohol and paying heavy financial penalties, not to mention the embarrassment.
Four legged animals are everywhere on rural roads. Most roads are not fenced and grazing animals are free to roam. Use caution and expect surprises ahead.
In the cities a half a second delay at the traffic light may lead into very expressive protest from the driver behind but in small villages it is very acceptable for the driver in front to suddenly stop and block the road for a short chat with a friend in the next car or to get something from the shop. Be patient and enjoy your holiday.
Many taxi drivers in Greece, similar to some other countries, do not think that they are subject to the same highway code. Use more caution, especially in city canters.
On some mountainous roads the road condition is less than perfect and the bends around the corners instead of sloping inwards, slope outwards throwing you off the road. Barriers are not as common as desired in some remote areas and apart from religious monuments built in memory of past victims at sharp dangerous corners there is little separating you and your car from the beautiful scenery. Take nothing for granted in unfamiliar roads.
Some tips for bikers
Small motorbikes or even bicycles are not less dangerous because they are smaller. The force of a crash has to do with the combined speed of both parties and the level of damage more to do with your protective gear than the size of your vehicle. Don't forget the smaller you are the less visible you are.
You require a license for driving a motorbike with gears. Wearing a helmet is obligatory in Greece for riding a motorbike and although this law was not strictly enforced in the past it is now becoming more imposed and obeyed. Most intelligent riders have now defied the sun and recognize that a hot head is better than a broken one. All travel insurance companies also do not cover accidents involving unprotected riders.
When renting a bike or a bicycle try to avoid major roads or congested junctions. You don't have to visit the furthest beach on the island to get the full pleasure from your rental. Stay local and explore the surrounding beaches.
You may not feel the strong sun due to the wind whilst riding a bike but the effect is as strong. Try avoiding long journeys when exposed to the sun in hot summer months especially in the afternoon.
Mainland North West: Florina to Great Lake Prespa Mainland Ionian Sea: Astakos to Paleros Mainland central: Ancient Delphi to Galxidi Pelion on the Aegean: Volos city on Pagasitikos Gulf to Tsagarada mountain village to Chania ski resort and down to Volos Peloponnesus: Korinth to Epidavros Aegean Theater Western Crete: Hania on the Cretan sea to Paleochora on Libyan Sea