What is the safest way of getting round Georgia when driving a car? The question is meaningless, seeing as Georgians drive like mad – at least they do according to Western standards – the local roads lined with all sorts of surprises and traps. All foreigners who choose to drive here must keep their eyes wide, wide open, ready at all times for the unexpected.
The driving conditions in Georgia are very different to those in Poland and other countries in western Europe. The general attitudes, the traffic laws and the customs drivers have developed are all odd. This is also true of the state of the road surfaces and the things upon them which can shock even the most experienced rally driver out there! Having lived in Georgia for a good many years, I have five general items of advice for all those who wish to drive its roads, either in a car they own or have rented for the purpose.
1. Size always matters and wins
The bigger the car, the more say you have in what happens out on Georgian roads. Be it a crossing, or a one way street, or a roundabout – the one who drove in larger will drive out first. No point debating this logic, no point expecting anyone bigger than us to follow laws and codes. It’s always best just to let them go first.
2. Restricted Trust Rule
The rule of Restricted Trust applies to drivers, pedestrians and other road users in each and every circumstance. In Georgia you will learn the proper way to use your horn and our so-called “chasers” – meaning your high beam lights – you need to horn and flash you way from A to B in order to make decent progress, barging your way thus through Georgian byways and highways alike.
3. Expect the unexpected
Georgian drivers overtake using the rule of three… Marshrutki, which are the big vans which function as local public transport, can suddenly and without warning stop in the middle of any road – just coz someone wants to get out or else the driver feels like saying hello to a friend passing by. Right of way on many local byways belongs to cows, pigs, dogs and herds of sheep. Expect the unexpected, have eyes in the back of your head, pay careful attention to side roads and roadsides. The things which can at any time leap out really might seem funny at first, but in time can really ruin your day and in no time become a life-threatening danger.
4. Police stops – just because
Some time ago, Georgian police was not widely known for issuing many fines to drivers, but at present drivers are charged for just about anything, even the tiniest sort of infringement. For years, I never got a ticket from any of the cops who pulled me over, but come 2018 I got six tickets for speeding alone – interestingly enough, and simply annoying, each time I was driving at the legal speed limit. The cost of tickets has also risen, so driving and getting pulled over can really begin to hurt your holiday budget.
Do remember: if you drive too fast, up a one-way street or commit another offence while driving a rented automobile, the owner of the vehicle (the rental company) will be informed by the authorities via TXT message. Although you, of course, are liable for paying the fine. If you fail to do so, you can have problems leaving the country – you can be stopped at the airport until all your unpaid tickets are settled to the authorities’ satisfaction.
5. What to do in the event of an accident
The final item of advice here is – what to do should you be involved in an accident or a car crash. If you are behind the wheel, turn the engine off and get out of the vehicle (assuming you are well enough to do so). Ensuring everyone is well enough for the time being first, call the police and the car rental company instantly.
In Georgia it’s always worth getting the law involved, even if the accident is a minor one. This is because small motorbikes and scooters often zoom around without number plates attached, while drivers often don’t have documents on them, making insurance claims tricky to arrange.
Hence it is always best to rent your cars from a reputable vendor (see my own list of useful contacts below), rather than from the cheapo, untested private sector.
I do hope these tips help you get around Georgia with less trouble and more pleasure – I wish you safe and happy driving, as well as an enjoyable stay once you reach your destination in the lands of my forefathers – my very own homeland.
Photos and editing: Jan Bożek and Bartłomiej Rozkładaj