In the past, Greece had a terrible reputation for road safety. In recent years, however, as roads and highways have improved dramatically. European Commission statistics (2010–2017) report a drop of 41% in fatalities. However, no one who has travelled on Greece's roads will be surprised to hear that the road toll is still a lot higher than the EU average, with 812 road deaths in 2016 and many more injuries. Overtaking is listed as the greatest cause, along with speed. Accidents can occur on single-lane roads when slower vehicles pull to the right on both sides and are overtaken at the same time, leading to head-on collisions.
Heart-stopping moments aside, your own car is a great way to explore off the beaten track. The road network has improved enormously in recent years, with a similar increase in tourist traffic, especially on the islands. This brings its own problems such as parking and congestion in island towns. There are regular (if costly) car-ferry services to almost all islands.
If you plan to hire a motorcycle or moped, you require a motorcycle licence. Expect gravel roads, particularly on the islands; scooters are particularly prone to sliding on gravelly bends. If you plan to use a motorcycle or moped, check that your travel insurance covers you: many insurance companies don't cover motorcycle accidents.
Entry EU-registered vehicles enter free for up to six months without road taxes being due. A green card (international third-party insurance) is required, along with proof of date of entry (ferry ticket or your passport stamp). Non-EU-registered vehicles may be logged in your passport.
Driving licences EU driving licences are valid in Greece. Rental agencies require the corresponding driving licence for every vehicle class (for example, motorcycle/moped licence for motorbikes or mopeds). Greek law requires drivers from outside the EU to have an International Driving Permit (IDP). Rental agencies will request it, as may local authorities if you're stopped. International Driving Permits can only be obtained in person and in the country where your driving licence was issued. Carry this alongside your regular license.
Fuel Available widely throughout the country, though service stations may be closed on weekends and public holidays. On the islands, there may be only one petrol station; check where it is before you head out. Self-service and credit-card pumps are not the norm in Greece. Petrol in Greece is among the most expensive in Europe. Petrol types include Super (leaded), amolyvdi (unleaded) and petreleo kinisis (diesel).
- Main highways in Greece have been improving steadily over the years but many still don't offer smooth sailing.
- Some main roads retain a two-lane/hard-shoulder format, which can be confusing and even downright dangerous.
- Roadworks can take years and years in Greece – especially on the islands, where funding often only trickles in. In other cases, excellent new tarmac roads may have appeared that are not on any local maps.
- Slow drivers – many of them unsure and hesitant tourists who stop suddenly on corners and inappropriate places – can cause serious traffic events on Greece's roads.
- Road surfaces can change rapidly when a section of road has succumbed to subsidence or weathering. Snow and ice can be a serious challenge in winter, and drivers are advised to carry snow chains. In rural areas, keep a close eye out for animals wandering on to roads.
- Roads passing through mountainous areas are often littered with fallen rocks, which can cause extensive damage to a vehicle's underside or throw a motorbike rider.
- When driving on a single carriageway, slower vehicles, including older trucks, tend to pull over to the right into the 'safety' lane, allowing impatient drivers to pass around them. The issue is, this happens from both sides so as a car pulls out to pass in the free space (which locals seem to wrongly consider a 'lane'), fatal head on collisions are common.
- In Greece, as throughout Continental Europe, you drive on the right and overtake on the left.
- Outside built-up areas, unless signed otherwise, traffic on a main road has right of way at intersections. In towns, vehicles coming from the right have right of way. This includes roundabouts – even if you're in the roundabout, you must give way to drivers coming on to the roundabout to your right.
- Seatbelts must be worn in front seats, and in back seats if the car is fitted with them.
- Children under 12 years of age are not allowed in the front seat.
- It is compulsory to carry a first-aid kit, fire extinguisher and warning triangle, and it is forbidden to carry cans of petrol.
- Helmets are compulsory for motorcyclists. Police will book you if you're caught without a helmet.
- Outside residential areas the speed limit is 120km/h on highways, 90km/h on other roads and 50km/h in built-up areas. The speed limit for motorcycles is the same as cars. Drivers exceeding the speed limit by 20% are liable to receive a fine of €40 to €120; exceeding it by 30% costs €350 plus your license will be suspended for 60 days.
- A blood-alcohol content of 0.05% can incur a fine, while over 0.08% is a criminal offence.
- It is illegal to use a mobile phone while driving. If caught, you may be charged between €100 and €300 and have your license suspended for 30 days.
- If you are involved in an accident and no one is hurt, the police are not required to write a report, but it is advisable to go to a nearby police station and explain what happened. You may need a police report for insurance purposes. If an accident involves injury, a driver who does not stop and does not inform the police may face a prison sentence.
- Mopeds, motorcycles and scooters are available for hire wherever there are tourists to rent them. Most machines are newish and in good condition. Nonetheless, check the brakes at the earliest opportunity.
- You must produce a licence that shows proficiency to ride the category of bike you wish to rent; this applies to everything from 50cc up. British citizens must obtain a Category A1 licence from the Driver & Vehicle Licensing Agency (www.dft.gov.uk/dvla) in the UK (in most other EU countries separate licences are automatically issued).
- Rates start from about €20 per day for a moped or 50cc motorcycle, ranging to €35 per day for a 250cc motorcycle. Out of season these prices drop considerably, so use your bargaining skills.
- Most motorcycle hirers include third-party insurance in the price, but it's wise to check this. This insurance will not include medical expenses.
- Helmets are compulsory and rental agencies are obliged to offer one as part of the hire deal.
- All the big multinational companies are represented in Athens; most have branches in major towns and popular tourist destinations. The majority of islands have at least one outlet.
- By Greek law, rental cars have to be replaced every 10 years.
- The minimum driving age in Greece is 18 years, but most car-hire firms require you to be at least 21 (or 23 for larger vehicles). In some cases, you pay extra if you're a younger driver.
- High-season weekly rates with unlimited mileage start at about €280 for the smallest models (eg a Fiat Seicento), dropping to about €150 per week in winter.
- You can often find great deals at local companies. Their advertised rates can be up to 50% cheaper than the multinationals and they are normally open to negotiation, especially if business is slow.
- On the islands, you can rent a car for the day for around €35 to €60, including all insurance and taxes.
- Always check what the insurance includes; there are often rough roads or dangerous routes that you can only tackle by renting a 4WD.
- It is not possible to take a car hired in Greece into another country.
- Unless you pay with a credit card, most hire companies will require a minimum deposit of €120 per day.
The major car-hire companies in Greece: