My 10 Rules for Driving in Romania

danger sign-1 driving in romania
This sign says “Danger of Accident.” They could put these about every 50 feet along any Romanian road you choose. They're absolutely ignored, of course.

After seven days of driving in Romania, I ought to be able to come up with the one word that best sums up the experience. Through my mind runs terrifying, boring, unrelenting, machismo, surrealistic, edgy. But I think I’m going to settle on exhausting.

So, when you think of renting a car in Romania, the first thing you want to keep in mind is that it’s not driving so much as it’s like being in a nightmare carnival arcade where you’re trapped into a perpetual game of whack-a-mole. No matter what you do, another asshole pops up to annoy you.

So, since you can’t ignore them, you might as well join them. To that end, I offer Tom’s 10 Rules for Driving Like a Romanian.

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1. Never ever leave any space between you and the vehicle ahead of you. Because, if you do, they guy behind you is going to pass you, pull in sharply because there is rapidly approaching oncoming traffic, and step on his brakes hard so he doesn’t rear end the guy who is now in front of him–who is, of course, the same guy you were formerly following at a sane distance. Of course that means you have to stomp on your brakes to avoid rear ending him, all the while hoping that the guy following three feet behind you saw this happening and stepped on his brakes in anticipation.

2. Those international no passing signs–the ones with the red car on the left of the black car–are interpreted in Romania to mean that they only apply if you happen to be driving a red car and are passing a black car. This, I believe, is the reason you never see a red car in Romania.

dacia logan-1 driving in romania
The dreaded Dacia Logan, while will always be in front of you and about 40 other cars. But he doesn't care because he can't see through his back window which is piled with stuff. Also notice, he's being passed by a German car in a no passing zone.

3. Driving a Romanian-made car, specifically a Dacia Logan, is the exemption to the above. If you have a Dacia Logan, you must drive as slowly as possible through the busy mountain roads (that’s all roads in Romania) so that you pile up the largest line of crazed would-be passers behind you. Because, even some Romanians won't pass on a ten percent grade uphill curve with large trucks coming at them as they build up speed going downhill. You win if you have at least 25 cars stuck behind you at any one point going no more than 50 kilometers (30 miles) per hour. You get a bonus for every car in line that passes another one of the cars behind you, but still has to spend at least 10 kilometers more stuck behind you.

4. If you have a German car–a BMW, a Mercedes, an Audi, or even a Volkswagen–you are entitled to speed up to two feet behind someone else who is passing at the moment and flash your lights at them so they’ll bow to your Teutonic mechanized superiority and move back into their lane even if they haven’t completed their pass.

5. And this is really rule 4A. If you have a German car and you don’t pass at least four other cars per maneuver, you’re some kind of a wimp.

6. You must observe at all times proper passing technique. In a nutshell, this means pulling up to within a foot of the car in front of you before pulling into the left lane. I think the actual rule is that you should leave at least one centimeter between you and the car ahead per 10 kilometers per hour that your traveling. So, if you’re going 100 kph (62 mph,) you can leave as much as a meter (3.3 feet) between you and the preceding car. However, this is usually ignored in favor of a pure 10 centimeters (4 inches) distance no matter how fast you’re going.

7. After observing rule 6, see rule 1 for the procedure of pulling back into your lane.

8. If you feel like stopping on the road for any reason, there’s no real reason to pull off onto the shoulder. Indeed, there aren’t that many shoulders on Romanian roads anyway. So, feel free to just angle a little to the right and stop. Putting on your flashers is purely optional. The traffic behind you can wait until you run into the shop, go to the bathroom, or whatever. Or, they can take their chances and pass when they can get a short break in oncoming traffic.

horse cart driving in romania
The one time there's a clear patch of road. And a horse cart.

9. If you’re driving a horse who is pulling a wagon full of hay, a refrigerator, or a family of eight, see the Dacia Logan rule (Number 3) but you only have to hold up ten cars to win a round. If one of them is a German car, however, you get extra points.

10. Finally, if you can observe all the above rules while texting, you are a real Romanian.

I ran across this quote recently and thought it apt to include here: Have you ever noticed that anybody driving slower than you is an idiot, and anyone going faster than you is a maniac? – George Carlin

To see more quotes about travel, check out this link.

If you'd like to see some of the places we were driving around Romania to see, see these posts on the UNESCO World Heritage sites of the Fortified Churches of Transylvania and the Wooden Churches of Maramures.

Interested in another perspective on driving a rental car in a foreign country? Without ruining your marriage? Read Kris the Navigator's story here.

Some of the links on this page are sponsored by True Romania Tours. Their site offers useful detail about driving in Romania and about the process of renting a car.

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30 thoughts on “My 10 Rules for Driving in Romania”

    • Have just completed (August 2017) 2 weeks driving around Romania. Things must have improved as many local drivers were courteous, the amount of horses and carts in rural areas not an issue and the roads (apart from Guru Humoruful (sic) to Sighetu Marmatel which was being remade and just awful) were OK.
      Yes there were some dangerous drivers but if you left sufficient room between you and the car in front it was not an issue.

      If you are a good driver, vigilant and careful you should have few problems. I was 67 years old at the time and would do it again.

    • David, no signs in English. Luckily I’m adept enough at the other Romance languages that I could make my way in rudimentary Romanian. And, of course, all road signs in Europe use the international standards that I got used to a long time ago. If there were any signs in English, they would probably say something like “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here,” which I guess is actually a translation from Dante’s Italian, but is completely fitting here.

  1. Hahaha – sounds like Egypt! Except safer. There they just stop in the lane in the dead of night with no warning lights in the middle of the “highway” aka “Desert Road”. Truly terrifying. The one country I could never get out of the parking space.

  2. So funny! I’d add that bus drivers, besides following all of the above rules, must make sure that the bus drives through EVERY pothole with AT LEAST one of its tires, at as high a speed as possible! And no seat belts allowed.

  3. Hi Tom, One of my readers actually brought this post to my attention. I’m not over 50 ( I’m 49) but we’ve been living in Romania near enough since spring this year. We’ve bought a house. I just want to say that I totally disagree. There are a few nutters in poncy cars who drive way too fast, but you get them anywhere. The driving style is different, but once you get used to it it’s totally fine and Romanian drivers are actually very considerate. I can think of at least 10 countries with way, way, worse driving and I much prefer driving here to our old home, Australia and would take the lack of traffic over my beloved home country, the UK.
    I think this post is misleading. Sorry. I drive over an hour to get to our nearest big town, through country ( but good) roads, full of horses and carts and tractors, then through heavy( for Romania) city traffic. I enjoy driving here, enjoy the horses, enjoy the amazing scenery, but most of all I love the Romanian people.
    So, that’s all. Best wishes.

    • A couple of things perhaps, Alyson. Maybe your country roads have a different sort of traffic than the two-lane main roads between cities. If the people are calm on your roads, that’s great. The people on the main roads are, as a rule, maniacs who have very little regard for safety, and even less understanding that all that passing on those kinds of roads isn’t really going to get you anywhere any faster anyway. We had one guy in a van, who was pulling a trailer with another car on it, pass us and successively at least 10 other vehicles. When he finally turned off the main road, 100 kilometers later, he was three seconds ahead of us.

      A second comment: you realize exaggeration is the essence of humor, right?

  4. Yeah, we spent a month driving around, from Bucharest ( in a Dacia), up the middle and back. You get these idiots everywhere in the world, it’s nothing uniquely Romanian..

    • Wrong — not every country is the same. The amount of a-hole drivers in Mercedes you find in Romania far exceeds that of most (if not all) western nations. If you did not find this, it’s probably because you are one of those slow (“Mr Magoo”) drivers completely oblivious to what is going on in the road — one of the Dacia Logan drivers creeping along with 50 angry drivers behind you perhaps?

  5. You’re funny.
    The joke in Romania is:A BMW driver doesn’t care if you are on the road; and a Mercedes driver doesn’t understand the fact you are on the road…
    The Dacia owners if they are not old are pretty aggressive in traffic as well.The reason:we don’t have motorways and we don’t want to get old on the road. So we pass as much as possible. :)
    Drive safe.

  6. This article sums up driving in Romania perfectly. We were there this month and couldn’t agree more with your assessment. We’re in our 30s and my husband is a very confident driver who has driven semi trucks all over North America, and was still stressed dealing with Romanian driving.

  7. I just moved here from the states 2 months ago and have not dared to step into the driver’s side of a car. I’m fear for my death each time a taxi pulls up as well. Although a native by birth, I spent nearly 30 years living in the US. I have to say this post is beyond spot on, even today. I thought driving in Phoenix and LA was bad… guess you never fully appreciate what you have until a Beemer drives by with the steering wheel on the RIGHT side… SMH. The plot thickens even further..

  8. Dear Tom,
    I am a native and I believe you are…about 60% right. The rest of 40% needs more time…to assess (and get used to); also, please consider the fact that, even (really) calm drivers, driving German medium tanks, like me, are exasperated by the a-holes (driving German heavy tanks) you have mentioned…I have to confess that what is called “road civilisation” is still under construction.
    P. S.: roads are improving faster than the drivers here.

    • That’s good news that the roads are improving. If they’d just put in a passing lane now and then, a lot of the problems caused by the German tank drivers could be solved. I just want to say that, drivers notwithstanding, we loved Romania and its people.

  9. Tom, checking the family tree to see if we are related. We live in Ukraine and are planning a trip from Kiev to northern Greece circling back through Albania, Kosovo Montenegro, Croatia, Bosnia, Slovenia, Austria, Slovakia and then back to Ukraine. Clearly there was some exaggeration in your ten rules but I sort of believe the “where there is smoke there is fire” theory. My take away, drive carefully and expect the unexpected. I am checking to see if there are similar “Tom” posts for the other countries on our travel list. Excellent post.

    • Thanks, David. There may have been some slight exaggeration, but only slight. The best thing you can do when driving in so many countries (and in my home state of Minnesota, home to the USA’s worst drivers) is work on developing patience. It’s your only chance.

  10. Having driven here for over 12 years, by your remarks, I’d say you fall into that Dacia driver stereotype. Most unfortunate events are caused, even if 2nd hand, by slow drivers, not “maniacs”. And drivers not willing to scan further than 10 meters in front/back of them, or don’t bother communicating their intentions(signal lights especially). Mostly to blame is not the quality of the roads, rather the quality of the driving schools and medical check-ups. Most people causing those problems are elderly people who aren’t up to their senses anymore. Pity from the doctors doing said check-ups doesn’t help. They should be pushed into putting extra effort in, I’d say that would help a lot, everywhere in the world. And from what I’ve heard, you guys over the ocean are very far from setting an example for anyone drivingwise.


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