Are Czech drivers the worst in the world?

Yes, I'm still sick, but getting better. For the first time in a week, I can actually hear fairly normally. I've had a middle-ear infection.

I hope to be out on the road for the first time on Friday or Saturday. Whoo-hoo! It's been hard, sitting here staring at my new bike, while all my friends are out in the sunshine, racking up the kilometers. It's about 11 degrees Celsius today (52 F) and sunny. I'm dyin' in here.

I thought I'd take this downtime to write about the problems with Czech drivers. If you drive your car quite a bit in Prague, as I do, one thing you notice is how careless the Czech drivers are. I've driven in 19 countries, and I would say that the Czechs are among the worst drivers I've ever encountered. I'm talking about the stupid chances they take on the road, overtaking other cars on narrow, blind corners out in the country, following too closely in the city, idiotic lane changes, driving too fast for conditions, etc. Every time I'm out, I invariably see a fender-bender of some sort.

And if you happen to be on a bike, watch out.

Weapons on wheels

I've had two very bad experiences with Czech drivers while riding my bike.

In the first altercation, I was descending the hill connecting Jeneralka and the Vltava River near Podbaba. I would say I was going around 35 kph and was sticking close to the edge of the road. A car came up behind me and tried to run me off the road, or at least he wanted to scare me. The young punk driving the car didn't actually hit me, but he came damn close. There's not a lot of escape room on that side of the road, and I was lucky I didn't end up hitting a tree or something. The driver and his brain-dead buddy in the passenger seat were laughing. I yelled at them and gave them the finger (what else can you do in such a situation?), and they gave me the finger back and sped off.

As I continued riding, I could feel my blood begin to boil, my adrenaline rising. I was livid. I vowed that if I saw them again at the bottom of the hill, there would be hell to pay. Of course, when I got down to the bottom, there was the car parked next to a pub. The passenger wasn't in the car, but the driver was. I jumped off my bike and went up to the driver's window, which was rolled down slightly, and told him to get out of the #%&#@! car. He wouldn't. I yelled a bunch of expletives at him and told him again to get out of the car. Of course, he's a big man when he's behind the wheel, but he was a little girly man when his target was staring him down. I just rode off, yelling a few more curses as I went.

We will kill them if they don't kill us first

In the second episode, my friend Stewart and I had stopped to rest at a four-way intersection in the Hanspaulka neighborhood of Prague 6 after ascending a fairly steep hill. We were off to the side, but not necessarily over as far as we could have been. This car with another young punk driving came speeding down the hill and turned onto the street where we were hanging out. He was going way too fast for such a neighborhood street and came close to running us down. We probably shouldn't have been standing where we were standing, but he was driving like a maniac (which he actually may have been). We yelled some epithets at him as he sped off.

To our surprise, he stopped the car, put it into reverse, and proceeded to back up at high speed with the intention of running us over! We got out of the way just in time, and both of us started yelling at this moron. Stewart went up to the driver's window and I believe tried to punch the guy, who somehow managed to get in a grazing shot of his own, all while still behind the wheel. At one point, he gunned the engine and went after Stewart, taking the car through a ditch and pinning Stewart up against a large hedge with his front bumper. He eventually sped off.

I, of course, rather than yelling at the guy, should have written down his license plate number while all this was going on. I didn't (although I now carry a pencil and paper with me whenever I ride). Stewart was scraped up a bit, but generally unhurt. We ended up riding around to see if we could see the guy again (I think we might have killed him if we could have gotten him out of his car), but never did. We ended up calling the cops and knocking on the doors of folks who lived right there to see if they had seen what had happened and could act as witnesses. We found some nice folks who did see it all. After an interminably long wait, the police finally showed up and we explained what had happened, but we never did hear from them again.

What I remember is that Stewart, who's a professional artist, said he'd sketch the culprit for the police. He ended up drawing a portrait of a wild-eyed clown. We had a good laugh.

I had a work colleague of mine in Syracuse, New York, who was killed when he was hit by a van while riding his bike. His name was Brian Bourke, and he was a talented music writer. But he wasn't wearing a helmet. I always wear my helmet because of him. I think about Brian at least once every time I go out riding, especially in the Czech Republic.

What's their problem?

The drivers here are dangerous, to other drivers and especially to cyclists. If they're not trying to run you down, they're at least yelling at you as they drive by. I could never figure that out. What exactly are they mad at? It reminds me of the times I've been golfing on courses where a road happens to run close by. More than once I've been ready to tee off or sink a putt and some jerk in a passing car will roll down his window and yell something at me.

If you have any ideas why the Czechs are so nasty to cyclists, or have some experiences or tips of your own, please share.

A cyclists' oasis

To lighten the mood a bit, here's a picture of a hidden gem of a beer garden/restaurant on the fringes of Roztoky called Koliba. It's a fantastic place, especially for cyclists. It's situated at the start of a lovely trail that leads from Roztoky to Unetice. It's the perfect spot for a cold glass of Budvar on the way back from Okor or wherever.


They specialize in grilled meats, which are lovely, and the fish soup is great, too. You can sit and sip your beer and watch the carp jumping for insects in the small pond out front. But it's hard to find. Make a left in Roztoky at the Victoria Restaurant and head up. It's at the end of that street, past all the lovely homes.

When it's warm outside, there's no better place to eat or drink.

Comments

Anonymous said…
I was at Koliba this morning. They are putting out the outside tables and umbrellas....
Anonymous said…
Czech Drivers are NOT the worst in the world. They are MENTAL a good chunk of the time, and being a cyclist I am scared of them to the point that I almost never drive in Prague... BUT, no question, go spend 20 minutes in Cairo, and you will realize it is not so bad. Israel takes #2. I would say prague might make the top 20.
Crime victim said…
Question for you, hope you can help. My bike was recently stolen, and I'm looking for a new mountain bike. I don't need anything spectacular, but I ride my bike around the city every day, so it can't be a terrible piece of crap. My only requirements are that it's not overly bulky or heavy, has about a 16" frame, grip-shifts, and at least 21 speeds.

I'd be happy to buy used, but it might be hard to find something fitting my specifications. Any idea where I can look for something new/or used for under 1000 Kc?

Thanks for the help and I enjoy the blog.
Crime victim said…
Typo on my last post - I'm looking for something under 10,000 Kc.
Grant said…
Dear Crime Victim. Sorry to hear about your loss, but I'm glad you like the blog. ... In terms of finding a bike, if you've got that much to spend, it shouldn't be a problem. As you may have seen from one of my previous posts, I just bought a nice GT mountain bike for under 10,000 crowns. I got it at my local bike shop in Prague 6 -- Cykloservis U Tyrse at Jaselska 29. Mine was a 2006 model that they had on sale. There were others for under 10,000 when I was there a few weeks ago, I'm sure. Other bike shops should also have last year's models on sale. A friend of mine bought a used mountain bike in your price range that he found advertised on expats.cz, so you should check them out, too. He's been happy with it. Good luck! Let me know how it goes. And thanks for reading!
Grant said…
Dear Anonymous,

As for drivers in Cairo, I've been there but never driven there. I agree. It was a madhouse. But I never actually saw any accidents, only a tangle of cars all honking their horns and following no discernible traffic rules. The same in Kabul! Insane traffic, but somehow it seems everyone manages to make it through without hitting anything or anyone. The same in Rome, where I HAVE driven. In Prague, it just seems like they're mental AND they get into accidents. But maybe that's just because I live here and see more of the aftermath. Anyway, thanks for the post, and be careful out there.
Anonymous said…
Hallo Grant, nice blog indeed.
I would not say that Czech drivers are the worst in the world, but they really are pretty bad in my opinion.

I am Czech, driver and cyclist as well, so the Czech crazy drivers(usually male drivers,) make me mad quite often. It seems like some people here turn into total idiots when holding the wheel.

Especially the Prague ones are known across the Czech rep. for their aggressiveness and dangerous, fast drive (but to be fair, its not only them).

I think it has some roots in the communist times, people learnt not to keep the rules and laws and not to be considerate to each other. More to that after the fall of communism, the laws got more relaxed and many people have run wild since then. Lots of those new rich bought strong, expensive cars and think that they are the kings of the roads.

I believe and hope it will change after some time, that we will have more cycling roads and the country will become more cyclist friendly and that the people will learn to be more considerate to each other(either by force or optionally).

Recently there has been adopted more strict code and harsh penalties for offences while driving, because the amount of road accidents and especially the number of dead people got allarming.

Michaela
Mike Esson said…
After spending a few months in Mexico, i sadly have to say that the Czechs share the same flirtation with death whilst driving. In Olomouc i have started a struggle to push the council's will of connecting a cycle path network to schools resulting/motivated by the problems of escorting Robbie, my 5 year old boy who cycles independantly. to Kindergarden. In relation to your good article, i'm not very optimistic about Czech driving culture and the only way i see a short-term solution regards cyclist safety is one of separating the cyclist from the driver when possible with the long term view of drivers respecting our right on the road. I´m a 37 year old Scot living in Olomouc since 1998, married with 2 kids and would love to meet up with likeminded cyclists. Cheers, Mike Esson.
GRANT PODELCO said…
Thanks, Mike. I think you're probably right about the short-term solution. We've just got to be careful out there. Let me know how to get in touch with you. My e-mail address is on this blog. Maybe we can link up sometime. I hear Olomouc is a lovely place. Maybe we can do some cycling sometime. Ever get up to Prague?
Anonymous said…
Mike Esson
Having problems with the email Grant. I'm cycling around the Czechlands pretty often so it'd be great to sit down with a cool beer and have a chat with yourself and other likeminded cyclists who agree that this part of the world is a great place to live. My contact is essoncz@volny.cz or 603 358099 ( preferably sms ) Cheers, Mike
Phil Curran said…
So, officially, based on the number of drivers, accidents, deaths, versus the population, on percentage the Czech Republic IS the worst in the world. Those were based on official figures for 2007.

In Egypt, Greece, etc, the drivers are dangerous because they are so relaxed about everything. Here the drivers have some sort of pent up aggression and hatred. Czech drivers are just not normal. They are rude, arrogant, evil.
Grant Podelco said…
I knew it, Phil! Thanks for the official confirmation. It just hasn't gotten any better out there since I posted this. If anything, worse. All the best.
Evil indeed. That's exactly what it is.
Anonymous said…
I totally agree with the author of this bike blog: the Czechs are very, very shitty drivers. Like you say, it is their hostile aggression behind the wheel that makes them so terrible. I'm an English teacher and walk from company to company through every day to teach. Even just walking, cars are very dangerous: I have had 2 separate instances where the driver, for no appartent reason, tried to run me over and kill me. I used to ride a bike in Seattle and Portland where I used to live...but here I would NEVER ride a bike. I value being able to walk, and have a functioning spine too much. I don't want to end up dead or in a wheel chair for the rest of my life. It does not help that the police here are shit: because of the Communist era, the police here are hated by all Czechs, and have low standards of training and accountability. The court system is also shit: the corruption and bribery rife within the CZ court system is among the very worst in Europe, so you will GET NOTHING if you are hit by a car and its the driver's fault. Suffice it to say there is NO legal recourse or compensation if you get hit here. Be forewarned, you are playing with death and a very good chance of ending up in a wheel chair for life if you ride in the CZ. Even walking here is dangerous because of the fucking asshole drivers. Just awful.
Anonymous said…
It's 100% true. A mixture of careless drivers with a good sprinkling idiots for good measure. Anyone would think that driving licences came free with the corn flakes.
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