Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Latvia, U.S. citizens may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
Foreign visitors to Latvia planning to operate a motor vehicle are required to obtain an International Driving Permit. You may get these through the American Automobile Association (AAA) or the American Automobile Touring Alliance for a small fee. Your U.S. state driver’s license is not sufficient for driving in Latvia. These requirements apply if you are using rental cars as well, whether or not the rental company chooses to enforce the requirement as a condition of rental. If you drive without an International Driving Permit, you may have your vehicle confiscated by the police. U.S. citizens resident in Latvia for more than six months are required to apply for a Latvian driver’s license. Upon receipt of a Latvian driver’s license, U.S. citizens are required to surrender their U.S. driver’s license to the Latvian authorities. The licenses are then returned to their respective states of issuance.
Latvia’s rate of automobile accidents and fatalities is one of the highest in Europe. You should be alert for pedestrians and slow-moving vehicles in traffic. Additionally, violation of traffic rules is common, and it is not unusual to be passed by other automobiles traveling at high speeds, even in crowded urban areas. In Latvia, it is required by law to yield to pedestrians at marked intersections. However, many drivers fail to do so. Be alert to approaching vehicles when crossing the street. During winter, most major roads are cleared of snow; however, you should be alert for fog, snow, and ice while driving. Driving while intoxicated is a very serious offense and carries heavy penalties. Local authorities use roadblocks and breathalyzer tests as enforcement tools. Be alert to the possibility of drunk drivers and drunken pedestrians wandering on the road. You must use headlights at all times, and note that there can be as little as six hours of daylight during the winter months. Speed limits are usually 50 km/hr in the city and 90 km/hr on the highways. As of late 2011, Latvia began using an extensive photo speed enforcement program with cameras deployed throughout the country. Public transportation is generally considered safe, but travelers are encouraged to select well-marked taxis. Emergency services are fair but improving (See section on Medical Facilities above); response time may be especially slow in traffic or in rural settings. Dial 112 for police assistance, or 113 for ambulance service.
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