In terms of driving every country has its own rule and regulations and as a foreigner one must always ensure that such rules and regulations are followed to the letter, for your own safety as well as the safety of those around you. Generally in Europe the major road signs comply with the Vienna International Convention, thus foreign citizens that visit Minsk (or anywhere else in The Republic of Belarus) from the European Union should already be familiar with such road signs and should be able to navigate themselves accordingly.
Never the less, there is more to driving in a foreign country than just being familiar with their road signs, one should also take into consideration speed limits, parking, traffic lights, drink driving limit amongst other factors. This article seeks to layout the basics of driving in Minsk, things to do and not do, and as such enlighten readers on how to be the perfect driver (or as far as perfection goes) in The Republic of Belarus.
The number one rule of driving is to hold a valid drivers licence and this of course applies to almost anywhere you go in the world. In Belarus, driving is permitted if one holds an International Driving Permit (IDP) accompanied by a valid driver’s licence. Individuals from the United Kingdom that are in possession of a valid UK photo card licence are able to use that on its own without the need of acquiring an IDP, however for all other UK licences an IDP is recommended. The permitted age to drive in Belarus is 18 years and over.
One vital piece of information to bear in mind is that if you are planning a long stay in Belarus, that you can only use your domestic drivers licence for a period of 3 months, after which you have to obtain a Belarusian drivers licence and the process of doing so is some what laborious as you would have to attend a 3 month course in a driving school in Belarus and pass the knowledge and driving skills test.
When driving in Belarus the driver must always ensure that they carry the following, important documentations as failure to do so can incur an on the spot fine, such documents are a valid drivers licence and your IDP, proof of ID such as your passport, ownership documents of vehicle and last but not least third party insurance. If you are a foreign citizen looking to purchase your car in Belarus, then you are obligated to service your car before driving it and there are specific places that carry out this service. Once the checks are conducted you will then be issued with a certificate that your car has passed the test and is fit to drive on the roads. All of the above must be original otherwise they will not be accepted as valid forms of documentation which in turn could inhibit ones ability to drive in Belarus but on top of that the chances of getting fined for not adhering to such a rule is high.
Health and Safety
In addition to all the necessary documentations, by law drivers in Belarus (which includes foreign drivers) are obligated to carry the following items in their vehicles and again failure to do so could result in hefty fines. Such necessary items are headlamp beam deflectors and depending on what make your car is you will either require deflector stickers or alternatively you will just have to adjust the beam manually, which requires a little bit more effort but if the end justifies the means then it is certainly worth doing . In addition to that, it is also required of one to carry a warning triangle and this is absolutely compulsory and needs to be o board all cars. By law, you also required to have on board your vehicle a fire extinguisher and a first aid kit.
Hitting the Road
Rules and Regulations
Like many European countries in Belarus driving takes place on the right side of the road and overtaking takes place on the left, therefore for most foreign citizens coming from within Europe this should not be an issue, however for UK citizens this might be somewhat problematic but with extra care and practice it becomes second nature.
Although a common practice when driving, seatbelts must be worn especially for front seat passengers, and by law children under the age of 12 are not permitted to seat in the front and young children are required to have a child seat in the car. It is also important to bear in mind that when travelling by car in Belarus during the bitterly cold winter months that your vehicle is fitted with snow tyres and this is absolutely compulsory and is expected of all drivers.
Need for Speed
Beware of speed limits! In built up areas you are permitted to go up to 60km/h, in residential areas a speed limit of 20km/h stands. The speed limits in the outside built up areas differ, for a car travelling on the motorway you are permitted to go up to 110km/h but it drops slightly to 90km/h on the national roads. Speed needs to be controlled and you need to stay within your limits, there are often traffic police in areas you would least expect and they are there to monitor speed and will stop and fine those that are breaking the rules-so don’t be a rule breaker!
Hints and Tips
In terms of parking your car in Belarus they have recently introduced parking meters, although these are not yet available at all parking facilities, some are in existence. In some places there are valets on hand who will issues you with a parking ticket manually stating what time you have parked your car and then on your return to pick up your car you will have pay accordingly. In most shopping centers parking is free. The parking regulations in Belarus is in accordance with the Vienna Conventions on Road Traffic and most if not all European Citizens that are in possession of a driving licence should be familiar with it , as it is the standard set of traffic rules.
Cars that are illegally parked can be and are towed away by police, fines are recorded and in the instance that you commit the same act again then penalties can be doubled, thus it is best to avoid illegal parking-it is always best to be on the right side of the law.
Unfortunately in Belarus there are not many designated parking spaces for disabled drivers therefore one has to make do with the spaces that are on hand. In places like the airport(s) and some of the newer shopping centers, disabled parking spaces are available.
The traffic lights in Belarus are the same as those used internationally; it is the 3 colour traffic light system. As a driver in Belarus always ensure that you stay within your lane, sometimes the space can be a little bit tight but to avoid collisions and the endless paperwork and headaches that come with it, it is best to steer within your own line as it is not uncommon for there to be roads with traffic going in the same direction.
Avoid using your car horn as much as possible, the Belarusians do not take to kindly to it as they perceive the use of the horn as being sworn at, it is not a common practice and generally road rage is at a minimum, something that some foreigners might find surprisingly pleasant.
Belarus also has a zero alcohol limit, so do not drink and drive under any circumstances. In some European countries there is some leeway in terms of how much alcohol you can drink and drive but Belarus has zero tolerance and individuals not abiding by this rule could ultimately find themselves spending the night in the comfort of a prison cell, so keep your limits to 0.00%.
Are you ready to drive in Belarus?
All of the above illustrate the items that are necessary before you set off on any car journey in Minsk and around Belarus; once you tick off every item on the essentials list then you are ready to hit the roads! The rules and regulations are in place to keep you safe and of course those around you. The driving rules do not differ greatly to those of other European countries, especially with the Vienna Convention on Road Traffic in place, but there are certain rules that are country specific that as a foreign citizen in Belarus you should respect and follow, this only ensures a happy, safe journey for you.
When driving in a foreign country it is essential to always be extra vigilant, even more so than you would be in your home countries as you are embarking on an unfamiliar territory. If you have read, learnt and familiarized yourself with what it takes to drive in Belarus then you are certainly read to take on the roads.