Why don’t most drivers in Malta indicate? Perhaps the heat makes twitching that hand on the indicator too much effort? But, then again, it’s a year-round problem.
If the car in front does bother to indicate, don’t be fooled – it may well turn in the opposite direction from that indicated. Often, a driver will indicate after, or at best when making the manoeuvre. I’ve coined the term ‘explanator’ for the indicator’s use here in Malta.
Driving in Malta, especially if you’re new to the islands, can be daunting. For some, it’s sheer fun; for others, it’s sheer hell. It’s got better in my 15 years here. I used to see people going the wrong way round roundabouts to take a short cut.
I’ve been a passenger in a car in Tripoli, Libya (a white knuckle ride) and driven in Italy. Malta presents a far easier driving experience than those. All the more so if you come from a nation with right-hand drive vehicles. So, don’t be put off. Car hire is still good value here compared to most in the EU. And a hire car can get you places route buses can’t quickly or easily. But…
…you’ll need to keep your wits about you if you do hire a car in Malta. Here are some tips to safer driving in Malta:
Drive on the left.
But expect cars to be anywhere on the road, dodging potholes, or driving in the shade, as we like to joke! Many drivers drift out of their lane, so beware when overtaking on dual-lane roads and watch out for drifting on multi-lane gyratory systems and roundabouts.
Give way to the right on approach, but if you’re on the roundabout, expect cars to shoot on in front of you. Roundabouts are still, literally, a hit and miss affair with rules. I’ve seen people park to let out passengers on roundabouts, reverse on them, and double park on the edges to have a chat. Also, drivers often get in the wrong lane on the roundabout and cut you up when they exit.
Many drivers don’t seem able to judge your speed/distance when they’re turning out onto a main road. They often lurch out into your path, and then crawl! You’ll end up checking your breaks at each and every side junction you pass as knee-jerk reaction to this phenomenon! It’s the kangeroo-effect driving!
Vehicles with “Y” plates
Maltese number plates have three letters, and three numbers. Beware those whose last letter is “Y”. They are taxis, minibuses, buses, public transport vehicles and so on. They know the roads, and drive often as if they own them.
K number plates
These are hire cars. While not all K reg. cars are hired by visitors to Malta, try to allow drivers of these cars some leeway, and hang back. Visitors may well not know the roads, or where they are (highly likely given the signposting).
This has improved a lot in recent years, thanks to upgrades part-funded by the EU. Most main arterial roads are reasonably good. But the Birkirkara by-pass, and road north to the Gozo ferry are very patchy. And good road surfaces can suddenly come to an end and disintegrate into road works, potholes, ruts and worse. A friend of mine got her car stuck in ruts – not the historic cart ruts of course – on the Dingli Cliff road last winter, and had to be towed out!
It’s not supposed to be the American freeway system here, but make sure your inside wing mirror is in tact, as you’ll need it! Overtaking on the inside is very common, as is weaving in and out of traffic lanes, at speed, and without indicating!
Limits are 80km/hr on open roads, and 50km/hr in built-up areas. But you won’t get much faster anyway and expect to be at 70km/hr and 35km/hr in reality. Watch out for local speed limits. Local councils have imposed numerous speed restriction, often accompanied by a speed camera. Also, be aware that Maltese drivers like to drive in spurts – particularly near speed cameras – either full speed or at a crawl, so expect erratic speeds from the cars around you!
National and international driving licences are accepted.
Wise to take our fully comprehensive if you hire.
Buses tend to pull in and out of bus stops, or just stop to let passengers off without indicating. But if you aren’t tempted to drive, it’s worth knowing that around 50 per cent of Malta’s visitors don’t hire a car here and bus it instead. Buses are cheap and reliable (mostly) but slow, can be crowded and are always steaming hot in summer.
Malta Highway Code
This mirrors the UK Highway Code. Click here to read.
Photo: Alex Grech
Additional research for this post: Annabel Mallia.
Good read. Having driven in Malta on two occassions I can relate to many of your tips. The one thing that stands out for me on our last trip was a driver hslf reclining in his seat at an intersection, gesticulating grsndly with one hand which I understood to mean ‘after you’. To my horror he cut straight in front of me and I then realised that he had a cell phone in the other hand and the hand sign was actually part of his conversation.
Hi, I couldn’t agree more and when I first arrived I was literally driven to distraction with the quality and lack of awareness of some drivers. They drive as if they are the only people on the road!! However, after a year and a half, I am much calmer and accept the general lack of road sense as part of Malta’s charm and I can’t deny, that at times I enjoying the undertaking myself.
I just love driving in Malta much better than driving here in the UK lol. I agree signposts could be better in Malta though pretty good in Gozo
trudy kerr says
Excellent article Elizabeth. A very insightful look into driving on the island, and very amusing. Personally, I particularly like the new round about built outside Gharghur which seems to be ‘optional’…
I just hope I don’t have to go back to driving in another ‘normal’ country, I am a full convert and doubt I would survive the abuse for Maltese driving skills.