Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in the Kyrgyz Republic, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. Accidents involving severe injury and/or death are not uncommon. Drunk driving and hit-and-run accidents are significant problems and drivers should exercise particular caution and use defensive driving techniques, especially at night and on holidays. In the event of an accident where there is an injury, emergency medical assistance may be very slow to respond. Even if medical assistance does arrive in a timely manner, treatment and facilities available at local clinics may not meet U.S. standards.
Most of the Kyrgyz Republic’s road infrastructure consists of two-lane roads, many of which have fallen into disrepair and are poorly marked and lit. Many local drivers disobey fundamental traffic laws by not stopping at red lights, driving while intoxicated, passing vehicles when it is dangerous or prohibited to do so, or not stopping for pedestrians at crosswalks and intersections.
Drivers must exercise particular caution to avoid uneven pavement, potholes, open drains, and uncovered manholes. Night driving should be avoided, as roads are inadequately lit. In winter, roads are seldom plowed and ice and snow make the poor driving conditions even more hazardous. Pedestrians routinely walk in the road, often wearing dark clothes at night. Mountain roads in the Kyrgyz Republic are often narrow and treacherous, and may close without notice due to snow, ice, or rockslides. Guardrails and barriers preventing falling rocks are often missing. Driving through mountain passes in the winter can be very dangerous. The Kyrgyz Republic does not have a roadside assistance infrastructure. Towing companies do not exist. Although mechanics are available in cities there is little organized oversight or certification of their practices or abilities. Rest areas are infrequent and basic. Service stations are generally available in and near cities, but the fuel they provide may be adulterated or of poor quality.
The road between Almaty, Kazakhstan, and Bishkek, Kyrgyz Republic, is especially unsafe at night or during poor weather. Travel on this route after dark by U.S. Embassy personnel is restricted.
The legal blood alcohol level for driving in the Kyrgyz Republic is zero. Generally, speed limits are 60 km per hour in the cities and 90 km per hour in rural areas. Kyrgyz law mandates that all automobile passengers wear seat belts and that motorcycle riders wear helmets. International driving permits are recognized in the Kyrgyz Republic.
Drivers may face harassment by traffic police, who have been known to demand payment of arbitrary "fines" for purported infractions. According to Kyrgyz law, payment of traffic fines must be made at local banks rather than directly to the traffic police.
Public transportation in the Kyrgyz Republic is limited to buses, taxis, and very few intercity trains. Travelers should be particularly careful when using public transportation. Buses tend to be very crowded and can be unsafe and unreliable. Taxis too can be dangerous. Due to the danger of theft or assault, travelers should avoid entering a cab that already contains passengers. Taxis are seldom metered, and travelers should negotiate a fare prior to entering a cab and be aware that cab drivers often try to charge foreigners a high fare. Drivers of vehicles that are not taxis are often willing to drive people for fares. However, U.S. citizens should avoid using these "private taxis" and unmarked taxis.
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