Driving in the Czech Republic
Having been driving in and out of Prague and the Czech Republic since 1996 I've amassed quite a lot of experience in handling driving conditions here. This is a comprehensive page about all aspects of driving and what to watch out for. The quick links below are for the most popular sections.
Driving via Germany or Austria
Zero ToleranceThe legal driving age in the Czech Republic is 18. You are required to have a zero blood alcohol level when driving. Remember this if you are driving in the early morning after a heavy previous night. Breath testing is quite rare (in the old days the police would smell your breath and it would go one of two ways - 1) You pay a hefty fine i.e. 5000Kc and then they go or 2) it's off to the police station). Take my advice, pay the money, do not ask for a receipt, walk away from the car and find a hotel for the night.
Lights ONSince July 2006 all vehicles are required to drive with lights on. This raised questions like "which lights?". It is generally accepted that this means "dipped headlights" which also means that your rear lights will be on as well. New cars with "running lights" may have problems as 1) these are not recognised as dipped headlights and 2) they may not operate the rear lights.
First Aid KitYou must have an officially recognised first aid kit if driving here. They are available at any service station and cost about 300Kc. The police may ask to see it during a spot check.
Driving Licence EnforcementJune 2006 saw the introduction of the Czech driving licence penalty points system. It's not absolutely clear how this applies to tourists and expat residents. Local opinion is that driving (speeding etc) fines will continue. I don't have a Czech driving licence but, evidently as I am a resident I have been assigned a "virtual driving licence". This can have advantages and disadvantages. The advantage is that as each month passes with no points you get credit for future deductions. The disadvantage is what would happen if I bust my "virtual licence points" i.e. could they take my UK licence? I don't think so!! Currently the points are as follows:
|Offence||Number of Penalty Points|
|Driving a vehicle without relevant driving license category||7|
|Driving while unfit through drink or drugs||7|
|Refusing a breath test on alcohol||7|
|Refusing a medical examination to note if a driver is not under influence of alcohol in case the breath test was positive||7|
|Refusing a medical examination to note if a driver is not under influence of a drug||7|
|Causing a road traffic accident with fatality or serious injury by breaking duties of a driver||7|
|Not stopping a vehicle or not reporting an accident to the Police or not returning to the spot of the accident after calling the first aid or after reporting the accidents if during the accident a person was killed, injured or a material damage was over 50,000 CzK||7|
|Driving immediately after drinking or drug use if driver is still unfit when BAC is higher than 0,3 pro mille or drive immediately after drug use if driver is still unfit||6|
|Overtaking when prohibited||6|
|U turn on motorways or reversing when prohibited||6|
|Crossing a railway crossing when prohibited||6|
|Driving a vehicle when a drivers licence has been withdrawn||6|
|Driving a vehicle in bad technical condition which can seriously endanger other road users||5|
|Driving a vehicle without valid certificate of professional competence||5|
|Driving a vehicle without valid medical certificate||5|
|Driving 40 km/h over speed limit in urban area or 50 km/h over speed limit outside urban area||5|
|Not stopping a vehicle on stop signal or on stop signal given by a person which is appointed to stop vehicles||5|
|Not giving a way to a pedestrian on pedestrian crossing||4|
|Endangering a pedestrian when making a turn||4|
|Endangering a pedestrian when turning to a place outside a road, when entering to a road or when making a U turn or reversing||4|
|Not give a way when prescribed||4|
|Driving longer than prescribed or not making prescribed stops when driving||4|
|Driving a vehicle which is not registered if the registration of a vehicle is prescribed||4|
|Driving a vehicle that has a different number plate from the one that was officially assigned to the vehicle||4|
|Failing to stop in case of road accident where the material damage on property is lower than 50,000 CzK, failing to exchange data on vehicle in case of accident or failing to report this accident to the police or leaving a spot of an accident when prohibited, not returning back to the spot after giving a first aid or after reporting the accident to the police||3|
|Holding a telephone or other voice or recording device when driving||3|
|Driving 20 km/h and more over speed limit or driving 30 km/h and more outside urban areas||3|
|Failing to stop in front of a pedestrian crossing when prescribed||3|
|Endangering other driver during overtaking||3|
|Driving immediately when impaired by alcohol when the BAC is lower or equivalent to 0,3 pro mille||3|
|Exceeding permitted weight of a vehicle||3|
|Driving on tram path where prohibited||2|
|Not wearing a seat belt or a helmet||2|
|Not transporting a child in child restraint device or with a seat belt on||2|
|Not marking an obstacle in traffic caused by driver||2|
|Driving a vehicle during days when prohibited||2|
|Driving 20 km/h less over speed limit or driving 30 km/h less outside urban areas||2|
|Driving a vehicle on motorway if construction or technical state do not allow the vehicle to go at least 80 km/h||1|
|Driving in traffic lane where prohibited||1|
|Breaking regulations on lighting of a vehicle||1|
|Not following road signs Zone with Regulated Traffic, Pedestrian Zone and Residential Area||1|
|Not following a prohibitory sign or sign with blue circle except exceeding speed limit signposted or not following No Overtaking sign and prohibitory sign Not Stopping and No Waiting||1|
|Use of a blue light if unauthorized||1|
|Use of a yellow light if unauthorized||1|
Expect fines to be in line with the severity as follows and repeat offences within defined periods will mean you are at the upper end of the scale:
1 point = 1500-2500Kc
2 points = 1500-2500Kc
3 points = 2500-5000Kc
4 points = 5000-10000Kc
5 points = 5000-10000Kc
6 points = 10000-20000Kc
7 points = 25000-50000Kc
There is intense discussion in progress as to whether on not the rules will be changed. Driving organisations should be publishing details.
Speed limits and other requirements
The Austrian police rigourously enforce their speed limits both in and outside of town. The highway top speed is 130km but if posted at 100km you can get away with 110. Most central roads have fixed or mobile speed cameras (when you see the "RADAR KONTROLLE" sign, take it seriously). When leaving Vienna to the north you are using the A23 which requires the Austrian motorway vignette. This is available for 14 days, two months or one year. You have two main routes into CZ. The first is to take directions for Brno which sends you to the border crossing at Mikulov (very scenic area). If you go past the Brno signs then you now take directions for Prague (Praha) i.e. keep going straight. Eventually you arrive at the Chvalovice border crossing (with all the duty-free shops and Vietnamese markets between the borders). Either way you would normally be looking at 3 and a half to 4 hours drive.
After leaving the A23 in the direction of Prague there are no big service stations as this is a provincial road. If stopping for food/drink/fuel/vignette etc you will find it more convenient to stop after the Austrian border but, before the Czech border. If travelling in the Brno direction then again you'll find the occasional fuel station but you wouldn't call most of these "services".
Driving through GermanyMany people will be driving through Germany to get to the Czech Republic so this is a little section on what to expect there.
Contrary to popular belief you cannot drive "as fast as you want" on all German motorways. In general, autobahns around Frankfurt/Cologne (Koln) and the A9 between Munich and Berlin have many fast stretches where 200km is not an uncommon speed. Be aware that cars will be approaching you much quicker than in the UK so bear this in mind when overtaking. The speed limit generally reduces to 120km when passing junctions. Off the autobahns you'll find many dual carriageways that appear fast but, the limit will be 100km and this will drop to 80km at junctions. Police in Germany favour the portable roadside camera normally hidden between bushes etc but they will give you an extra 10% i.e. on dual carriageways you can get away with 110km. The exception are posted 120km limits with the additional sign "Radar Kontrolle". By the time you've seen it it's too late and the only question is whether you get a fixed fine in the post or there's somebody up ahead going to flag you down and pay on the spot.
Before each service station will be a distance marker to the next closest service stations either on your road or after a "autobahn kreuz" i.e. a junction of two motorways. Most modern stations have a regular cafe and a restaurant but generally, only the petrol station will be open 24hrs. Many service station toilets are operated by a company called Sanifair. To use these toilets you put a 50 euro-cent coin in the machine and take a ticket. The ticket can be redeemed against any purchase at the service station i.e. 50 cents off a coffee etc. Save the ticket and you can use it when you go back.
Entering the Czech RepublicThe Czech Republic is now part of the EU and now has no official border checks but, the Police take the opportunity of the reduced speed limits to flag you down on the Czech side (especially if you don't have your headlights on). At any time your details may be taken at the discretion of the Police. If you are driving a hired car, you may be asked for your passport/ID, drivers licence and car rental agreement from both authorities.
Entry from Germany (not using motorways)
The fastest way is to enter the Czech Republic at the Pomezi border crossing and then follow the R6/E48 road to Prague. This is a popular route for motor cruisers and caravans not wanting to pay for the motorway charge.
From Germany - Waidhaus to Rozvadov entry
No motorway sticker is required on the German side. If you are aiming to enter the Czech Republic from anywhere near Nurnberg then this will be your border crossing. Most people will be following the E50 (Euro route) and signs to Praha or Pilsen but, a new extension to the German A6 autobahn has opened just after Pfreimd so you just follow the signs. If you stayed on the E50 for another 2km you take the junction for Wernberg Koblitz you can stop at the last decent 24 hour service station before the border. Then come back to the A6 motorway. Note that this part of the A6 contains a rest stop but no other services. At the border generally only the middle crossing gate will be open.
From Austria - Drasenhofen to Mikulov
Since the A22 extension opened it's worth buying the day sticker for the Austrian side. Mainly takes traffic heading for Brno and it's slow getting out of Vienna but, it's also an option for traffic wanting to drive fast on the Czech side and take a chance that the D1 motorway is clear to Prague. On the new part of the A22 there are a few points where police will wait or else you'll see the "dustbin" (camera) parked by the side of the road next to a works exit. Austrian Police will also have a stop point as you come down the hill in Drasenhofen before the border. Be really careful at the Brno junction of D1 as it's an accident blackspot as you'll find out. As you join D1 there will be traffic exiting the motorway into your lane and then within 100 metres traffic will be joining into your lane (and you are not supposed to change lane either so take it easy).
From Austria - Jetzelsdorf to Hate
NOTE: you don't have to go through Jetzelsdorf anymore as there is a bypass but, you can turn right at the first roundabout and then left onto the old road which takes you up the hill and through the vineyards (bit more interesting if you have a few minutes to spare). This is the route if you want duty free as the "no-mans land" between the border has several huge duty free and fashion warehouses including the giant Freeport. It also has a couple of reasonable restaurants including the one in the old airplane which is good for kids. Brothels immediately on the Czech side in Chvalovice and although it's a pleasant and scenic drive up to Jihlava it can be slow if you don't know the passing places and get caught behind trucks etc. I would expect to join D1 at junction 112 at about 2hrs 30 mins after leaving Vienna and from there it's an hour to central Prague.
If you use any highway designated as D (Dalnice) i.e D1 runs between Prague and Brno, D7 runs Prague to the border at Rozvadov via Plzen, you have to buy the Motorway Toll Vignette. Instructions on how to correctly use the vignette are available at the point of sale in Czech, English, French and German (pictured above). Prices will change but the way it works stays the same.
NOTE: Vehicles greater than 3.5 Tons come under the EU Toll system. Details of services and charges including a toll calculator can be found at www.premid.cz.
Note that when a vignette has expired it must be removed from the windscreen. The border will accept euros but it will cost 40% more. Write your car registration number in the white rectangle boxes on both halves (on the front of the vignette and the rear of the other part) and stick the larger part on the right bottom corner of the windscreen. Keep the other half in the glovebox as you will need to show it to the Police if challenged. The vignette may be purchased at all border crossings, post offices and most large petrol stations. You should also receive a diagram showing the location of Czech motorways. Drivers should read the website at www.uamk.cz (UAMK Service) and click on the "UK" tab for English for these and other details regarding Czech Motorways and bordering countries. The on-the-road fine for driving without a valid vignette from April 2009 is 5000 Kc (which really applies to foreigners) and up to 500,000Kc if taken to court. The police view the slip roads as part of the motorway. If you say "vignette" you will be understood (to say it in Czech sounds like "dal-neetch-nee znarmkoo"). For UK drivers beware as the motorway signs are in GREEN and the A-roads are in BLUE i.e. this is the reverse of how we have it in the UK. The signs that say "Ostatni Tranzit" mean the ring road which passes from the west around to the south and east of Prague. The southern part of this road is also known as the "Jizni Spojka". There are large sections of road which have a motorway sign and underneath it another sign that says "Bez Poplatku" or something similar. This means you do not need a sticker for this part of the road. Further down the road however will be another sign but this time it will read "S Poplatkem" i.e. with vignette only and you'll have to get off at the next junction if you don't want to take the chance.
If you are coming from Germany it is still possible to reach Prague without using the motorways. Aim for the "Pomezi" Czech border crossing and take the signs for Karlovy Vary. After Karlovy Vary take the signs for Prague. Close to Prague you'll see signs for "Centrum" and "Ostatni Tranzit" and neither route requires the sticker. Personally I recommend buying the sticker.
When you arrive on the Czech side you'll be essentially driving on a big dual carriageway with occassional stretches of a third lane to allow for slow moving lorries. The Plzen bypass is now open after they finished the tunnel at last. This easily shaves 20 minutes off the rush hour traffic time. If you go through the centre you'll be lucky if you beat 20 mins and that's hitting all the green lights and not getting lost.
Czech Road ServicesIf you stop for fuel you'll want to know the following. Standard unleaded fuels are called Natural 91 and Natural 95. Increased performance unleaded is Natural 98. The old 4 star LEADED fuel is Special 91 often from the RED pump (depending on the company). Diesel is from the BLACK or BLUE pump and may also be known as NAFTA. All stations have pumps especially for trucks and identify these pumps with a separate location or with the letters TIR or Diesel MAX. Petrol in Czech is called Benzin (benzeeen). If you are using the toilets, you generally have free access but, sometimes where external toilets are in use you will need to ask for a key. It is always nice to offer some money i.e. 5Kc or buy something small. Take your own toilet paper and a door stop if you have one (the cabins are often not lockable). For eating and drinking, many stations offer only cold rolls etc with vending machine drinks although proper sit down areas are being built into new stations and renovations of older ones. Credit cards (mastercard, visa, AMEX etc) are accepted at MOST stations but not all so, bear this in mind BEFORE you fill up. In June 2009 a 50L tank of diesel would cost just under 1300Kc and petrol would be 100-200Kc more expensive.
If you want to stop late at night i.e. after 10pm then you'll find that many smaller stations will have the doors locked and the pumps off. You have to go over to the window and give the cashier the money first. Then go back and you will be allowed to put exactly that amount in the tank. In December 2009, the cost of a litre of petrol/diesel was 25Kc or approximately 75 pence.
Breakdown ServiceFor a car emergency service call the automobile and motorcycle club 24 hours a day on the number 1230 (UAMK) or 1240 (ABA). Note that your insurance company may already have an agreement with one of these companies. In case of an accident the police should be contacted immediately there is an injury or if damage exceeds 50,000 Kc.
Approaching Prague from Plzen (D5)This is the main west link into Prague. Close to Prague, you will pass Lodenice and then go uphill on a three lane stretch of road which is followed by a place called Rudna. In 4km you will have to take one of two options;
1) You stay on the D5 highway as far as it goes and continue taking signs for "Centrum". This option is good for people staying on the Mala Strana side of the river or Smichov/Andel or anywhere close to the castle.
2) You take sign for "Ostatni Tranzit" and exit the D5 motorway. You now stay on this road until again you go uphill and the next signs will be for places like "Brno" and "Barrandov". Follow these signs and after 3km you start to go down a steep hill with a tramline on your left. Stay on the left to go to Smichov/Andel/Ujezd/Mala Strana. Stay to the right for the south ring road (Jizni Spojka).
Here's where it gets a little complicated. Immediately after you join the ring road there will be an exit on your right for "Modrany". Get off here and take the sign towards Branik (to the right, this is the river road) if you want to go to the Old Town or New Town, Jewish quarter, Hilton etc or if you want hotels like Corinthia Towers, Corinthia Panorama, Holiday Inn Congress centre, St George, City Club, Green Garden, Wenceslas Square or anywhere in the "Krc/Pankrac" area then stay on the river road until it becomes cobblestoned (you'll take a sharp right outside the Intercontinental hotel) and then 1.5km further on, turn right before the tunnel. This leads you onto the highway that passes through the centre of town and then heads on towards Brno. If you want hotels in the Holesovice area then go through the tunnel and take the next right to join the highway in the opposite direction. On the ring road, things are pretty well signposted after this but the speed limit is 90km and sometimes signposted down to 80km. There are several service stations on both sides.
Driving in Prague City CentreThe biggest hazzard for you in Prague will be the buses and trams. You MUST give way to them at all times. Be aware that trams will be on your left and not easily seen. They may warn you of their presence by ringing a bell but, they do not have to do so. If you have to turn left, make sure you take a good look in the mirror and can clear BOTH sets of tracks. If a tram has stopped at a marked tram stop you must observe the road marking. There maybe an island on which passengers will alight before crossing your path on a marked crossing but, if there is no island there will certainly be a yellow grid. YOU MAY NOT ENTER THIS GRID WHILST THE TRAM IS STOPPED. At night at some crossroads, the traffic lights controlling the junctions turn to "flashing orange". This means that nobody has the right of way and traffic must sort it out for themselves. This can be hazzardous on the river roads where traffic on the main road will be going quite fast and may not slow down for the junction.
How to... guide to how the park and ride system works.
Parking in Prague City CentreThe following is a guide to the parking areas. A guide about how to use the parking ticket machines can be found on the How to...guide to using automat ticket machines.
There are open air carparks (opposite State Opera), opposite the main railway station or in Narodni. The open air carpark at the main railway station always has spaces and is currently 35Kc per hour (I park here during the day but, I use the one opposite Statni Opera at night). Also, there are multi-storey/underground car parks at State Opera (accessed from the main road), Kotva Department Store (access from Revolucni), Rudolfinum (accessed by driving to the rear of the Rudolfinum) and the National Theatre (Narodni - accessed from the river road). All of these require you to take proof of arrival time in the form of a piece of paper or ticket and pay when you leave (Kotva and Rudolfinum require payment by automatic machine before you leave the garage). Most of the underground carparks operate automatic payment machines and also have an office. Sometimes the office is closed so make sure you have lots of change and low denomination notes.
In general you will only be towed away if you have parked in a dangerous manner i.e. blocking a tramline etc and if so, you will need to call 158 to find out where your car has been taken. More likely you will be clamped/booted and you will have to go to the nearest police station. They will tell you which place you can pick up your car from. You will be charged 700Kc for towing away and you will have to pay the fine in addition. If your car is clamped/booted it will cost you from 1000 to 1500Kc. There are no private clampers here. The people who put the boot on are Prague city police and are empowered to collect the fee.
Speed TrapsPolice in CZ favour the use of a camera car with a stopping point further ahead. There are few fixed location cameras but, the southern ring road is seeing more speed cameras being installed in the 80km zones (these zones increase to 100km between 2300-0500). Obviously I would be in trouble if I said where the police are normally to be found so read between the lines.
Plzen and West CZ Police speed traps. On Mondays and Fridays, there`ll be more police about. Driving west from Prague there is usually a Police van in the area of Rokycany. If you are heading into Plzen centre then speeds will drop to 100km approaching Plzen and just before the petrol station the limit is 70km. After this point and until I leave Plzen I am careful not to break the limit as there are known cameras and unmarked police. You may see a green skoda in a lay-by so obey the limit. The final check is as you leave Plzen to go on the motorway towards Rozvadov. The on-slip is a vignette checking site. Heading to Prague from Plzen, there is only one bad area. It`s outside of Plzen but, not yet on the motorway so technically the limit is 90km. This road is very fast and on the downhill stretch I would be taking a good look at the large blue sign (or rather what may be behind it !!!). If you are driving to Marianske Lazne or Karlovy Vary from the motorway via the Cheb route (D7 junction 128), you will pass through the village of Kocov. Be careful on this stretch as there are major roadworks finishing in 2011 and several places where Police will be checking speeds.
The road from the central Prague to the airport is Evropska and at the high end you will pass a McDonalds. After this point it is a 70km limit so be careful if you are rushing for a flight etc. Possibly I would be seeing a red or blue Skoda parked behind one of the bushes. Approaching Prague Ruzyne airport the limit is 40km and I would be wondering if that car on the VIP off-slip has broken down. The other main careful area is on the river road at Podoli where either way you may be stopped. Centrum bound I stick to the limit after the tram tracks and I wonder why a car is sometimes parked on the grass outside the sport centre. Going away from the centrum I'll stick to the limit until the petrol station. In general keep to the speed limits along the river road. Police will often be waiting for cars entering and exiting the motorway with no vignette. I would always buy it but, I've seen people risk a one junction trip to the Albert, Makro or Spectrum centres. This would be risky.
From Brno driving into central Prague using D1
When you enter "Hlavni Mesto" i.e. the official city boundary, the speed limit drops to 100km and just after the Jizni Spojka Junction it drops again to 70km. From now on there are speed cameras and the speed limit drops again to 50km as you come through the built-up areas.
If you are travelling Prague-Vienna-Prague via Jihlava then after Jihlava do not go through any village faster than 60km per hour. In the villages of Rancirov, Cizov, Horky**, Litohor, Vranovska Ves and Moravske Budejovice** you are almost certain to find a trap. Horky and Moravske Budejovice are the number one hotspots on this route (they even park in gardens). Note that since the introduction of increased motorway tolls for industrial vehicles, the Znojmo-Jihlava route now has a lot more lorries travelling on it.
The Dreaded "MIMO"Beware the dreaded MIMO. This is the Czech word that you will see inside a red circled sign and means there is a restriction on you entering this road and could be translated as "except". It may also be linked with "zasobovani" or "dopravni" or "MHD" all of which mean you can't go in. If there is a picture of a truck in a red circle, the restriction applies to them only. If the sign just has a red circle then, nobody can enter.
Driving outside central PragueAt roundabouts you will see cars indicating right but, not turning right. Be aware that most cars indicate because they are new to this type of control and they almost certainly will cut you up on the turn as they go round to the left.
On local roads, before each junction on the right will be a yellow diamond sign. A black line through it means you must give way. No black line and it's your right of way but, I would slow down anyway just in case. In more built up areas like between blocks of flats etc, there may be neither road markings nor road signs. In this case you must give way to traffic coming from roads on your right.
If driving in the countryside you will be driving through villages. As soon as you pass the village name (black letters on a white background), you have entered a 50km speed limit (or less if signposted). When you leave the village (same sign but, with a red diagonal line through it), the limit is now 90km.
On dual carriageways especially prevalent going north and south from Prague, you may see slow moving traffic in front of you veering to the right and using the "hard shoulder" as a temporary lane. Truck drivers will often be doing it if they can see a build up of traffic behind them as they are creating an overtaking lane. Think twice before overtaking a truck in this manner as the increasing number of "white crosses and candles" on the side of the road is testament to those who didn't make it.