Russia is not only the largest nation on the face of planet earth, it also crosses continents. Resting in both Eastern Europe and Northern Asia, Russia’s climate ranges from subtropical near Krasnodar Krai to subarctic in Siberia. In a country so diverse, it only makes sense that road rules would differ from anywhere else.
Russia saw its first automobile in 1896, developed by Pyotr Freze and Eugene Yakovlev. Since this invention, vehicles and motorways in the country have advanced significantly. Popular modern car brands in the country include Renault, Kia, Volkswagen, and Ulyanovsky Avtomobilny Zavod, or UAZ.
For foreigners visiting Russia, there’s an array of exciting things to see and do, from Russia’s aesthetically stunning architecture to bustling cityscapes and snowy arctic tundra. However, before bearing witness to the glorious domed steeples of St. Basil’s Cathedral or the historical elegance of Kizhi island, visitors must find a way from Point A to Point B.
Driving in Russia is no easy task for travelers who don’t know what’s expected of them. Some rules are stated plainly on street signs and in handbooks. Others are not so forthcoming and are more local expectations than official legislature. In fact, some rules are downright confusing.
Want to know more about the road rules that make driving in Russia such a difficult task for foreigners? Here are 25 facts about driving in Russia that have us scratching our heads.
25 Dipped Headlights Must Be Used At All Times
In many countries, headlights are required 30 minutes before sunset, 30 minutes before sunrise, and throughout any dark period. In Russia, dipped headlights are always required. Daylight use of dipped headlights can be contributed to foggy morning periods and poor visibility. Russia has many industrial cities and these cities see excessive quantities of air pollution poured out daily. The city of Krasnoyarsk, as an example, exceeds allowed air pollution levels by 30 times. Changes in pollution levels affect visibility, making dipped lights a necessity.
24 No Right On Red
It’s not only left turns which perplex visitors to roadways in Russia; right turns are also complicated. Unless a green arrow is displayed on an official traffic light, there are no right turns on red. There are many reasons an area might restrict turning, such as intense pedestrian traffic, multiple oncoming traffic sources, or a high rate of turning accidents. Considering the other road rules of the country, it could be that Russia is simply putting safety first. It’s sure to slow movement at an intersection but it guarantees fewer accidents.
23 Licenses Must Be Translated Into Russian
Foreign drivers staying in Russia may use a driver’s license from their country of origin. This is super convenient for visitors staying less than six months. However, for a license to be considered valid, foreign drivers must first have it translated into the language of Russia. Consisting of 33 letters, this unique alphabet is derived from Cyrillic script, combining Greek and Glagolitic. Fortunately, an IDP, or International Driving Permit, translates any license into nine languages, making life a little easier. It may require some extra work on your part but it ensures that everyone understands your license.
22 Drivers Must Be 18 Or Older
The legal driving age varies from country to country and state to state. In the US and Canada, most drivers are first legally licensed at 16. Some states, like South Dakota, buck convention with the legal driving age beginning at 14. In Russia, drivers aren’t legally allowed to get behind the wheel of a car until after their 18th birthday. Teens with a longing to ride a motorcycle luck out with an eligibility for a license at 16. Due to these laws, foreign drivers under the age of 18 are legally unable to drive in Russia.
21 Car Taxes Are Based On Horsepower
In the US, vehicle property tax is based on the value of the car and its emissions. Different states have different rates and some don’t charge annual property tax on vehicles at all. In Russia, the annual tax for ownership of an automobile is based on horsepower. Again, this rate varies by region, but an example might be 700 rubles for 100 horsepower and 2,400 rubles for 120 horsepower. Maybe they’re trying to dissuade drivers from choosing powerful vehicles. No Fast and Furious: Russia in our future.
20 No Honking In Town
Talk about noise sensitivity: in Russia, drivers are banned from using their horns in town. Vehicles are still allowed to sound the alarm in moments of danger. However, travelers won’t see local drivers laying on their horns if they get cut off; they use hand gestures, instead. The use of horns is less monitored on major motorways but while maneuvering through the city, motorists are strictly prohibited from honking. With what we know about rush-hour gridlock, it probably saves on noise pollution a fair amount.
19 Driving Dirty Is Illegal
Despite what Chamillionaire and Krayzie Bone sing about in their 2006 rap hit, riding dirty in Russia has very different implications. One thing which remains the same is its legality. Russia takes cleanliness very seriously. In fact, the country bans its drivers from setting out without a proper cleaning. While a muddy hood won’t get a traveler chucked in the slammer, a dirty tailgate could be problematic. This rule is meant to keep license numbers visible. So, feel free to off-road in the mud, just be sure to wipe your license plate clean to avoid a post-splash ticket.
18 Drivers Must Carry A Myriad Of Objects At All Times
Manning an automobile in Russia demands a lot of preparation. To be considered road ready, all drivers are required to carry a selection of safety equipment. This includes items like a first aid kit, warning triangle, spare light bulbs, fire extinguisher, and headlight beam deflectors. What ever happened to a can of gas and a spare tire in the trunk? To be fair, all these items are beneficial to the driver should an emergency arise. It makes us wonder why our road rules don’t insist on more safety gear.
17 Large Towns Forbid Left Turns
Left turns are tricky at the best of times, but in large towns in Russia, they’re downright outlawed. Most big cities in Russia prohibit the use of left turns to prevent motor accidents. Don’t worry, drivers aren’t expected to circle the city until they find a destination. Left turns are allowed at crossings with lights. Otherwise, drivers may turn right or go straight. It sounds a bit confusing, but we hear it gets easy with time. On the bright side, no left turning means less risk of getting side-swiped at an intersection.
16 Car Owners Must Re-Register Every Time A Visa Is Renewed
Visitors in Russia are eligible to purchase a car if they possess a visa. The vehicle is then registered to that visa, linking driver to car. It seems convenient in the moment but one problem with this setup is that visas must be renewed from time to time. Each time a visitor renews their visa, the car must be unregistered and then registered once more. It gets confusing, so much so that some choose to register their vehicles to a permanent resident to whom they have a connection.
15 Traffic Fines Are Paid To The Bank
Nobody enjoys being pulled over for a traffic violation and it’s even less fun in a foreign country. For drivers who make a minor traffic offense, fines aren’t paid through the local police as is custom with many cities in the US and Canada. Instead, tickets are paid through a major bank. The reason? Handing money to a police officer could be considered a bribe. There’s also some discussion as to the honesty of some officers. Due to money being pocketed in the past and tickets going unpaid, the bank now handles all traffic-based transactions.
14 Moscow Is Known For Bad Traffic Jams
Some cities in Russia are more difficult to drive in than others. Moscow, for example, is especially tricky. There are three main roads in the city: the Moscow Ring Road (or MKAD), the Garden Ring, and Third Ring. Before driving here, it’s important to know which Ring Road is safest to travel at which times of the day. The Garden Ring gets so backed up that it often leaves drivers stranded in traffic for hours. Unlike other main roads, the Garden Ring sees traffic jams all day, not only at peak hours.
13 Driving In Russia Requires A Lot Of Paperwork
Driving in any country requires a license, insurance, and registration. For visitors planning to drive in Russia, there’s a little more to it. First and foremost, non-residents are required to carry a passport, visa, and migration card. A license is an obvious necessity, along with a laminated registration card and digital or paper copy of insurance. For renters, a power of attorney must be also be documented and present in the vehicle before it’s road-legal. With all that paperwork, tourists should earn a college degree by default.
12 Only Phones From Russia Can Pay For Parking By SMS
One of the cool things the traffic system in Russia implemented recently is paid parking via SMS messaging. Unfortunately, this feature is only available on phones from Russia, making it extra-difficult for travelers looking to pay for street parking. Tourists who invest in a SIM card from Russia can pay for parking by sending a text to 7757. It seems like a fun way to pay. Just make sure texts are sent to the right number or a ticket will be issued. Unfortunately, there’s no number to text away a parking violation. Oh, bother!
11 Traffic Cams Monitor Everything You Do
This road rule is less confusing and more concerning. Traffic violations are so high on major roadways in Russia that the country installed cameras across all cities. So, not only should drivers be on the lookout for local fuzz but a multitude of recording equipment, as well. Of course, if all drivers follow the rules of the road, these concerns are minimal. Traffic violations caught via cam are sent by mail and expected to be paid in full within one month. On the bright side, early payment means those penalized only pay half-price.
10 Not Enough Road Signs
Despite the excessive use of road rules in Russia, there are seldom enough traffic signs to tell foreigners what to expect. From speed indicators to warning signs, drivers who are unfamiliar with roads could be in for some serious confusion. What’s worse than a lack of signage? An inability to read them! Signs in Russia sometimes have translations into other languages but oftentimes not every language. Unless drivers have an eye for Latin script, it’s a good idea to map routes early and brush up on the Russian alphabet.
9 Winter Driving Conditions Are Harsh
As we mentioned above, some regions of Russia see arctic weather conditions and intense snowfall. This puts a whole new spin on the concept of winter driving. Forget about slapping on some snow tires and hoping for the best, Moscow drivers see such low temperatures that tires seize and locks freeze. When travelling during winter, be prepared to maneuver through snow, ice, slush, and hail. Some tourist sites recommend taking a winter driving course before traveling to Moscow during its cold season, especially for foreigners from sunny climates.
8 Drivers Speak In Code
Ever wanted to be part of an exclusive club? It’s no secret society, but drivers in Russia do have their own code. While driving in Russia, tourists could happen upon another driver flashing their lights. This doesn’t mean what it means in the US (that the driver wants to cross into the next lane of traffic). Instead, it means there’s a speed trap ahead where a police officer is clocking drivers. It’s not the most honest method of communication, but helpful nonetheless.
7 Road Damage Is Worse In Russia
Russia’s intense weather transitions lead to more than just difficult winter driving, they also cause a plethora of potholes. A major complaint seen across tourist forums for travel is road damage. The heat Russia experiences in the summer is so intense it melts the asphalt on roads. When winter hits, ice causes ruts, and spiked tires force holes in the road. This makes a standard journey across a motorway in Russia feel like a mountain bike ride through a rocky trail. Unfortunately, road work just can't keep up with the damage.
6 Pedestrians Don't Always Follow Road Rules
Pedestrian and driver relations have always been rocky. Everybody wants the right of way, and nobody wants to wait for the other to do their thing. In Russia, it seems that pedestrians finally got fed up. Jaywalking, an offense which entails crossing the street at a non-designated section, is common in Russia. This could be due to the infrequency of marked crosswalks. Whatever the case, it’s incredibly stressful for drivers, as it happens both during the day and at night. Maybe those daytime headlights will come in handy, after all.
5 Rest Stops Are Few And Far Between
“Why didn’t you go before we left the house?” has never been a more important question. Long journeys on roads in Russia call for early bathroom breaks, as rest stops aren’t really a thing there. Of course, drivers are sure to stumble upon service stations from time to time but it’s difficult to count on them. Therefore, drivers should plan well, packing food and drinks and mapping out overnight accommodations well in advance. Be sure to check in with a mechanic before setting off on a trip to ensure there are no breakdowns.
4 Speed Limit Changes Are Hard To Follow
Russia’s lack of signage affects drivers in many ways, including an inability to follow speed limit changes. Unlike other countries, Russia doesn’t depend on an official motorway, but does have intercity freeways, which connect across the country. These highways are capped at a speed of 113 kilometers per hour. Some are only 90 kmh, while others are 60 kmh. Drivers in residential areas, school zones, and construction zones have yet more speeds to account for. With few signs and frequent speed fluctuations, it’s difficult to determine how fast one should drive.
3 Some Cars Have Right Hand Drive
As if there isn’t already enough to confuse tourists while driving in Russia, some vehicles have right hand drive. Fortunately, the standard roads rules in Russia designate drivers to travel on the right, making it easy for those from the US to acclimate. However, due to Russia’s ties to Asia, many vehicles on the eastern side of the country come from Japan. In Japan, traffic moves on the left side of the road, like in the UK. This puts some drivers on the right side of the road but the wrong side of the car.
2 Parking Fines Are Costly
Parking improperly in any country or city leads to fines but Russia tends to complicate things further. Drivers who fail to park properly are looking at fines of up to 3,000 rubles. This isn’t that bad, roughly converting into $45 USD. The issue isn’t in the ticket cost but in further costs accrued. Vehicles parked illegally in cities like Moscow are towed to an impound lot. These lots are located outside the city limits, meaning drivers pay for the tow and the cost per hour for storage at the impound lot.
1 Drivers Here Are Very Competitive
Finally, visitors to Russia have more to worry about than simply following the rules of the road. Drivers from Russia are known for being highly competitive to an extreme. Reports of showing off on busy roads, street race-style speeding, and comparing car size are commonplace. It’s more of an annoyance than a danger in most cases but tourists are warned not to engage. Remember, what’s most important in the end isn’t size or speed but reaching a destination safely that really counts.
Sources: South Dakota Department of Public Safety, We Heart Moscow, Moscow Beyond, The Moscow Times, and Expatica & Moscow International Portal.