Saturday, August 6, 2011

Travel in Bosnia, rent a car at your own risk? Car crash risks in Bosnia

(not my car that was hit in Sarajevo)
If you are travelling to Bosnia and plan on renting a car, be aware of a few things. Bosnia roads and drivers can be very dangerous, people not accustomed to their loose rules of the road and customs can end up in a bad accident.
A few things to keep in mind when renting a car....

1) First always pay for maximum coverage and any additional coverage they offer you, the chances of getting into an accident, someone hitting you or you hitting them are pretty high. Also the parking spots in Sarajevo lots are often not well marked and people park anywhere. It is pretty easy to hit a car in one of these lots.

2) Often you aren't covered to take the car out of the country, like going seaside to Croatia and the Adriatic. So make sure if you have a plan to go to the sea that you are covered for travel. Car thefts are a real problem in Bosnia, a few years ago car thieves could go to Sarajevo and drive them to Republic Srpska and be free (because the police didn't cooperate between the two entities) it has improved since then but car theft remains a problem in Bosnia. Also don't leave anything of value or perceived value in a parked car.

3) Make sure you make note of all existing dents and damage with the agent before renting the car. Bosnian rental cars are often damaged and beaten up, make sure you don't get blamed for it by noting everything before taking the car.

4) Make sure everything works well in the car before taking it out, car rentals aren't as professional as here in the states, often the A/C won't work, parts will be missing or won't work, don't accept a car that doesn't match what you requested online. 

5) Be aware that Eastern European models like Zastava may look nice and run well, they don't offer the same safety ratings and protections that Western European or American cars offer. That is why you don't see these Chech, Serbian and other cars in the US, there safety rating is not up to our standards.

6) Make sure any changes you want to make to your rental car agreement, extending rental period, additional insurance etc are understood by the rental agents. They speak English at these offices but your requests could be lost in translation. Repeat your request and ask them to show you on the agreement. I extended my rental car agreement by one day, cleared it with the agent and then got a call on that day that I was original suppose to return it, they thought I had stolen the car because I didn't return it. They said they weren't too worried because I was from the US (most car thieves are from Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro).It was all cleared up pretty easily. Car rental agencies I have dealt with in Bosnia are actually pretty nice, if not the most professional I have seen.

8) A international drivers licence is required in Bosnia, you can pick it up easily at your local AAA agency.

7) Police will often pull you over for a shakedown so they can pick up some coffee, cigs or Pivo (beer) money. Police in Bosnia aren't professional in most cases and often are barely illiterate. If police want you to pay a fine on the spot to them, you can request to pay it at the local bank, this will prevent them from pocketing them money. Also give them your International drivers license NOT your passport. If you make this request and the ticket isn't legit, they will often just turn you loose.

8) If you are driving and police holds up a hand sign that is yellow and red, that is them pulling you over. Just pull over and stop and see what they want, don't make them track you down. Don't plead ignorance, they really don't care and it makes no difference to them.

9) If you are travelling with children renting a car seat can be difficult and expensive, you actually may be better off buying a car seat at one of the local malls like ROBOT (which has a target like department store) in Hrsano for cheaper than renting a car seat. They may have car seats at the rental agency but it might not be the right size, too small or a booster seat.

9) If you get into a car accident be aware you will get the ticket pretty much no matter what. Especially if no one died or was seriously injured. The police figure that you and the car rental agency have money and can pay the fine and take care of everything. Bosnia is a relationship society and you are an outsider, you most likely will have to pay the price for this. Police are corrupt and inept, they will do an investigation, and get you a translator (eventually) but it is just a show. You will get the ticket most likely.

I was driving on a northbound on a two lane road, I was left turning and the road was clear ahead of me (no traffic going south) I was using my turn single and turning when a guy tried to pass me in the wrong lane from behind as I was left turning. He smashed into me and then hit some parked cars. As soon as it happened I knew I would get the ticket. As soon as the cops showed up they were shaking hands with the Bosnian guy and laughing...About two hours later a Police officer who speaks English showed up and told me I was getting the ticket. I couldn't believe it, I said he was passing me in the wrong lane and hit me from behind. He said you have to make sure the road is clear before turning, I said how I am suppose to prevent a car that is behind me, passing me in the wrong lane while I am turning from hitting me? He didn't respond with anything except that I was getting the ticket. I could have played my I know somebody in Sarajevo card and had them come down and get me out of ticket, but I didn't want to bother my friends. It cost me about $80 (I  deposited the money in the local bank) I think. When my Bosnian friend looked at the ticket it said I hit the guy (how could I do that when he is behind me and passing me?)  It's a raw deal, I could have contested the ticket in court but I wasn't living in Sarajevo and it never would have been resolved before I left. They figure you are an American and are loaded with money so it is no big deal.

It was an unpleasant situation but not the worst I could imagine, I was prepared for what was going to happen because of my familiarity to Bosnia and it's customs and traditions. The rule of law still isn't strong in Bosnia as it is in Western Europe. Bosnians tend to take care of their own in these situations. At the same time they do appreciate that you come for a visit (unlike Croatians in Croatia who often see travellers as a nuisance) and will try to make this unpleasant experience as pleasant as possible. Medical care in Bosnia is spotty at best and you may want to pay for some international health coverage before leaving the states.

The conditions of the roads, the drivers often reckless behavior and the fact that many Bosnian cars are older models not well maintained makes Bosnia a dangerous place to drive. You should always use extra caution and assume the other driver is an idiot and given the opportunity will most likely hit you. Drivers don't respond like those you are used to driving with here in the US. There reaction to situations is completely different than most drivers here and that is a hard lesson to relearn in just a few days in Bosnia, drive slow, take your time and let others pass you whenever they want and assume they will hit you if you give them the chance is the best advice I can offer.


  1. One more advice for travellers.
    Don't panic.

    >>There is a reason for ''Only fools and horses'' tremendous popularity here. Soul deep identification I think :D:D.
    Or old charshija joke ''Samo pošteno, pa ko koga prevari''.
    ''Only fair-play, and may the best cheeter win.''<<
    Papirni Pajac

  2. I understand you, Bosnian roads are not in the best condition, specially for rental cars, and their way of driving is...certainly different :) And I agree, don't panic, it only makes the situation worse. Here is my recommendation for a nice coastal ride , good luck and enjoy!

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