Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in a foreign country, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The Bulgarian road system is largely underdeveloped. There are few sections of limited-access divided highway. Some roads are in poor repair and full of potholes. Rock slides and landslides may be encountered on roads in mountainous areas. Livestock and animal-drawn carts present road hazards throughout the country, especially during the agricultural season. Travel conditions deteriorate during the winter as roads become icy and potholes proliferate. The U.S. Embassy in Sofia advises against driving at night because such road conditions are more dangerous in the dark. Some roads lack pavement markings and lights, and motorists often drive with dim or missing headlights.
Driving in Bulgaria is extremely dangerous. Aggressive driving habits, the lack of safe infrastructure, and a mixture of late model and old model cars on the country’s highways contribute to a high fatality rate for road accidents. Motorists should avoid confrontations with aggressive drivers in Bulgaria. In particular, drivers of late-model sedans are known to speed and drive dangerously. Motorists should exercise caution and avoid altercations with the drivers of such vehicles, which may be driven by armed organized crime figures. In some cities, traffic lights late at night blink yellow in all directions, leaving right-of-way unclear and contributing to frequent accidents. A form of “Russian road roulette” has taken hold in Sofia wherein drivers make bets about speeding through red lights at speeds that exceed 120mph in the late hours of the evening; bets are also taken challenging drivers to go the wrong way around roundabouts at high speeds.
Heavy truck traffic along the two-lane routes from the Greek border at Kulata to Sofia, and from the Turkish border at Kapitan Andre to Plovdiv creates numerous hazards. Motorists should expect long delays at border crossings. A U.S. state driver's license is only valid in Bulgaria when used in conjunction with an International Driving Permit.
If pulled over by a police officer, you should be aware that under Bulgarian law, police officers may collect fines on the spot, and may confiscate your driver’s license depending upon the offense.
The use of seat belts is mandatory in Bulgaria for all passengers, except pregnant women. Children under 12 years of age may ride in the front seat only if seated in a child's car seat. These rules are often disregarded in practice. Speed limits are 50 km/h (31 mph) in the cities/towns, 90 km/h (56 mph) out of town, and 130 km/h (80 mph) on the highways. For motorcycles, speed limits are 50 km/h in the cities/towns, 80 km/h out of town, and 100 km/h on the highways. Motorcyclists must wear helmets and ride with lights on at all times. At unregulated crossings, the driver on the right has the legal right-of-way, but this rule is frequently ignored. Drivers may be charged with driving under the influence of alcohol with a blood level as low as 0.05 percent. Right turns on red lights are not permitted unless specifically authorized. The penalties for drivers involved in an accident resulting in injury or death range from a US $25 fine to life imprisonment. Drivers are required to use their headlights during the day and night from November 1–March 31.
For specific information concerning Bulgarian driving permits, vehicle inspection, road tax, and mandatory insurance, please visit the Bulgarian Embassy website.
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