I learned how to drive on the streets of Los Angeles. In America, LA is considered one of the most dangerous cities to drive in, perhaps only second to New York. However, in my travels, I’ve found other places far more difficult than LA. Mexico City, London and Bangkok are up there. Then there was Bucharest, Romania. While I didn’t actually drive there myself, I almost lost my life in a taxi ride, and seeing car accidents was a daily occurrence.
Studies have found that Romania has the most dangerous roads in Europe, with the number of accidents several times greater than those in the UK. Then again, the UK is fifth in the world for safest roads – a fact which was rather humorous considering how terrified Romanians were of driving in the UK. Several of the told me to be careful when I said I was headed to the UK to drive around the country.
Romanians certainly know how dangerous their own roads are. This was most apparent at the intersections. Throughout many countries in Europe. there is a complete disregard of red lights by pedestrians crossing the street. This is mitigated in some countries like Poland and Germany, where law enforcement against jaywalking is vicious. Yet it was in Romania where I saw the fewest people crossing on a red light. It did happen, but very rarely. It wasn’t for fear of the cops, but from being hit. I didn’t even see that regard in Macedonia, where the cars themselves tended to ignore red lights if there was no oncoming traffic, and sometimes even if there was.
Terrifying Taxi Ride
Returning from a birthday party at the Barka Saffron Indian Restaurant with a couple friends from the hostel, we were in a taxi when we literally thought we were about to die. The cab was doing about 50 mph down the road when it came up to a bus parked in the middle of the road. Instead of stopping behind the bus, the driver decided to swerve into the center lane of the street to avoid the bus, while simultaneously stomping on the gas. Halfway down the length of the bus, the car that the bus was waiting for starting turning left.
Our taxi slammed on the breaks, and literally skid several feet down the road, stopping a mere few inches away from the car. Despite our taxi’s insane maneuver, he considered it the other car’s fault, and rolled down his window to scream at the other driver. He then jumped the taxi even closer to the other car, pretending to ram him!
With my racecar training and extensive driving experience, I was able to remain relatively calm through the experience. My friends in the back didn’t fare so well. Venessa swore she would never take another taxi in Bucharest. I’d personally recommend skipping the taxis in Bucharest, and stick to the metro, as most of the locals do. Uber is another option, but it turns out many drivers on Uber are actually the taxi drivers making extra money on the side. There are also a bunch of scams with the taxis and Uber, which is just another reason to use the metro.
Romanian Road Rage
Romanians are rather infamous for their rage on the streets. When they do get into an accident, it’s not uncommon for them to get out of their cars and start duking it out, either verbally or physically. Perhaps this is because Bucharest is considered the fifth worst city in the world when it comes to traffic. Or perhaps it’s the other way around, the constant accidents and subsequent altercations contributing to the gridlock.
Riding the streets of Romania, it’s hard to imagine that the drivers there have had any lessons in driving. Everyone seems to have a free-for-all mentality, an “anything goes” in order to get to their destination. As our taxi driver demonstrated, if there is a car stopped in the road, Romanians will swerve around it rather than wait for it to start moving. Highways are far worse. I felt like I was on a movie set, with every car speeding in an attempt to overtake one another.
The conditions weren’t limited to Bucharest either. rides I had to Brasov and Cluj were just as hectic, and even the bus to Moldova had a disregard for other cars on the road. I honestly don’t know how I wasn’t involved in an accident myself, except that my drivers somehow had a skill in their madness.
How to Improve the Streets of Romania
It’s interesting to consider how the streets of Romania could be improved. Having every offense fined by a police officer would obviously be the most logical. However, Romania has quite a reputation of being corrupt, and getting the policemen to correctly ticket the offenses could prove difficult. There’s also a question of whether the citizens themselves would pay the fines.
Having every citizen take a driving class would probably help a lot, but wouldn’t eradicate the problem entirely, as the basic nature of Romanians is still likely to come through. Don’t get me wrong, I have tons of Romanian friends. But Romanians in general have a bit of a rough side. This would also have to be addressed in conjunction with the training.
Thus, the simplest solution would seem to be designing the streets themselves to prevent accidents and bad driving. Installing speed bumps throughout the city, and poles between lanes to guide drivers to drive straight at a correct speed.
Obviously, Romania isn’t the only place this could be implemented. It’s only where it came to my attention the most recently. I remember my trip to Mexico City where I was astounded to find the roads devoid of street lines. Cars would drive pretty much anywhere they felt like, and sometimes even into oncoming traffic. Thailand is another challenge, although that might be an even tougher nut to crack.
Perhaps the correct test to give drivers wouldn’t be a driving test, but rather a reaction and morality exam. Those who could be trusted to drive competently and ethically would be entitled to a license, and the rest would be bound to carpooling or public transport.
Planning to visit Romania?
Here’s some extra reading to save hundreds on your next vacation or stage of your journey.