Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Estonia, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. In order to drive in Estonia, you must have the correct license. Estonian authorities strictly enforce their rules on driving with a proper license, and many U.S. citizens have been subjected to hefty fines in recent years due to confusion about Estonian rules, so please read the following information carefully. If you are a visitor to Estonia, you may drive only if you carry both your valid U.S. driver’s license and a valid International Driving Permit (IDP). You should obtain your IDP from either the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance (part of the National Auto Club) before you leave the United States. These are the only two entities in the United States that are authorized by international agreements to provide IDPs. Other entities purport to offer “international driver’s licenses,” but such documents are not recognized by Estonian authorities. If you are a resident of Estonia, you can initially drive in Estonia with your valid U.S. driver’s license and valid IDP, but upon receipt of an Estonian residence permit or after living in Estonia for more than one year (whichever is shorter), U.S. citizens must obtain an Estonian driving license. However, licenses cannot be issued until you have been in Estonia for 185 days within the past year. All individuals required to obtain an Estonian license must pass both a written and a practical driver's exam. An English-language version of the written exam is available and the Road Administration will ensure that an English-speaking examiner is available for the practical driving portion. Although testing may take place at several locations around the country, it is recommended that you contact the Road Administration headquarters at Mäepealse 19 in Tallinn, tel: 620-1200. Your U.S. license and International Driving Permit must have been issued before your “residency” began, so it is imperative that you obtain these documents before you move to Estonia. If you are caught driving without a proper license, you likely will be subject to a fine and your driving privileges may be revoked. Any U.S. citizen who wishes to obtain an Estonian driver’s license should contact the Estonian Road Administration authority (known by the Estonian acronym “ARK”).
Although road conditions in Estonia are generally good, some roads—especially in rural areas—are poorly lighted and are not up to Western standards. You may find that, compared to U.S. drivers, some drivers in Estonia can be aggressive, recklessly overtake vehicles and travel at high speed, even in crowded urban areas. Despite strict Estonian laws against driving under the influence of alcohol, accidents involving intoxicated drivers are frequent. It is not uncommon for the police to set up checkpoints on major streets and highways; you should pull over when asked by a police officer. You should always remain alert to the possibility of drunk drivers and pedestrians.
Estonian police very strictly enforce laws against driving under the influence. The basic rule is zero tolerance. Thus, you can be subject to severe penalties if stopped by the police and even a trace of alcohol is detected, so please do not drive in Estonia if you have consumed any alcohol whatsoever.
If driving, you must always stop for pedestrians in marked crosswalks. Some Estonian motorists do not comply with this rule, so if you are walking, you should always be careful when crossing the streets. In rural areas, wild animals, such as deer and moose, and icy road conditions can create unexpected hazards. You should also watch out for dark-clothed or drunk pedestrians walking along unlighted roads or darting across dimly-lighted streets or highways. Winter roads are usually treated and cleared of snow, but you still should remain vigilant for icy patches and large potholes.
You should comply with all traffic rules, including the following: You should always keep your headlights illuminated while driving; the driver and all passengers should use seatbelts; children too small to be secure in seatbelts must use child car seats; you should carefully comply with posted speed limits; you should not be using a cell phone without a hands-free device while driving; and right turns on a red light are prohibited unless otherwise indicated by a green arrow. According to Estonian law, if you are involved in an accident, you should not attempt to move the vehicle to the side of the road until the police reach the scene. The Eesti Autoklubi ( Estonian Auto Club ), which is affiliated with AAA, provides emergency roadside assistance. You do not need to be a member to receive assistance, although fees are lower for members. To request roadside assistance or towing service, dial 1888. For ambulance or fire assistance the number is 112. For emergency police assistance, call 110. Please note that for both numbers, the level of English spoken by the operator answering may be minimal.
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