FT.com / Europe - Poles returning home face car trouble.
As a lover of Poland who lived there for 11 years, I know something about this story. I used to have a right-hand drive car in Warsaw. I drove it from England in 1992 and used it for 8 of the 11 years I lived there. I drove my family all over the country safely and pleasurably. The car was foreign-registered and insured throughout. She left the country frequently enough for that not to be an issue, but I always thought it ridiculous that it was not possible to register her locally.
Poland has an appalling record on road safety. The fatality rate is four times that of Britain and double that of Germany. The worst death toll is on the weekend of the All Saints holiday, when Poles visit the graves of their dead to keep a candle-light vigil. This is a social, as well as a religious, event that involves much sitting on gravestones drinking vodka. If a given family has dead relatives in more than one city, it also involves a motorised dash from one graveyard to the other in the depths of the Polish Winter. All too frequently, that ends in tears.
Poor roads, poorly-maintained cars, lots of winter snow and ice and an aggressive driving culture account for the rest of the accidents. I have often remarked to Polish friends that they must be very good Catholics indeed as they drive as if in a hurry to the afterlife. Right-hand drive cars are certainly not a factor in many accidents. Poland's auto-routes and urban free-ways (sensibly, in my view) permit overtaking on both sides. So I was safer than the other drivers for more than half the time as (guess what) I usually chose the side to overtake on which I had better visibility. When not on such a road, my driving position was only a problem to me, as I had fewer opportunities to overtake. Perhaps the Polish judges can't imagine not overtaking, regardless of safety? Probably so, as in my experience the standard of driving among Polish lawyers was no higher.
Britain, of course, has no problem with thousands of migrant-labourer Poles driving their left-hand drive cars around our islands. So much for fairness. As between nations, reciprocity is surely the least one can hope for. Though I am not holding my breath for Muslim countries to take as liberal an approach to the building of Christian churches as, say, Switzerland to the building of mosques.
Like most legal restrictions, this is small-minded busy-bodying dressed up as concern for public safety. Having watched Poland enact hundreds of legal reforms to prepare for EU accession (the only time in my life I saw the EU do any good), I am sad to note that it has already (as I predicted to my Polish friends a decade ago) begun to approach EU law as the French do; cynically and selectively.
Photo credit: VirtualTourist.com