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Saturday, August 06, 2005 

Road Trips



While driving to the Eleftherios Venizelos Airport this morning to pick up my sister arriving from New York, the thought popped into my head that I haven't heard of any fatalities on the Attiki Odos. (a 60km or so stretch of highway bypassing Athens linking directly to the airport completed over a year ago)

This may not be news in some countries, but in Greece, it's a rarity. A road which doesn't have an accident every 20 minutes? Downright abnormal. But there you have it. Just Google "attiki odos + fatalities" and you come up with 19 returns...most of those being reports instead of news items.

I came to the conclusion that the roads in Greece themselves are more to blame for driver fatalities and accidents rather than the drivers. Yes, I know that most of those involved in accidents are guilty of committing unsafe driving offences such as speeding or unsafe lane changes but I believe this is the result of poor road conditions and negligent monitoring of drivers on those roads.

Most of the roads in Greece are poorly lit, 2 lane cow paths with a severe shortage of signage originally constructed to accommodate 100 vehicles and a couple of donkeys. Because of these factors, drivers realize often too late, that the exit they need seems to appear out of nowhere so they resort to unsafe lane changes in order to take them. Because the roads are often poorly lit, you don't see bicycles, cars in the makeshift 'breakdown' lanes or animals until it's too late. Because many roads don't have enough lanes to accommodate the traffic, many drivers resort to speeding, unsafe lane changes and/or road rage brought on by driving for hours in substandard driving conditions. Since the police seem to be only present at major intersections leaving or entering large cities, trucks with improperly secured loads, vehicles with malfunctioning head/tail lights, drunk drivers, underage drivers or drivers without licences often go unchecked which, of course, makes the entire road network a deathtrap waiting to happen.

The Attiki Odos by comparison, is well-lit, well-monitored (this morning, a truck carring a full load of metal products was pulled over by an Attiko Odos official) and plenty of clearly visible signage. For the first time, I didn't mind forking over the 2.50€ toll fee to drive on a motorway in Greece. It was a small price to pay for my peace of mind and a safer road. If King Costas really wants to make a dent in this country's abysmal road fatality statistics, then privatisation of the entire national road network is the best way to go.

Well, my experience with Greek roads is limited. We didn't have a car when we lived in Athens (thank god!), but we bought one when we moved to Kos. Since Kos was an island, the roads were pretty unremarkable, although in my opinion poorly lit.

When we moved from Kos, I had to drive from Pireaus to Litochoro at 10pm. Well, I didn't like the idea much, I hate driving, and this was all unfamiliar territory. It took us almost 2 hours to get out of Athens and find the friggin interstate! Signage is the worst, almost as if they are afterthoughts.

Gratefully, we made it in one piece, but I don't plan on driving back down to Athens ever again. Now, we travelled plenty from Litochoro to Thessaloniki, but the highway there is 3 lanes all the way and pretty well lit.

What I like about the Greek roads vs. American interstates is the lack of double trailer trucks and big huge trailer trucks. And trucks here pretty much stay to the right, in America, they rule the road. I hate that.

When I first came to Greece, I found more memorials to car crash victims on the roads than I did than signs. I knew immediately that this country's road fatality record would be a bad one.

As for the double trailer trucks...obviously, you've never travelled the Corinth-Patra route when all the trucks need to get on the ferries to Italy. At least now, during peak traffic hours on that 2 lane cowpath, the trucks are made to wait at the interchange. I always feel bad for the truckers trying to navigate that road in the pitch black at night trying to squeeze their trucks onto the shoulder of the road.

...and I'm sure the second thought whilest driving to Eleftherios Venizelos was "I wonder if my sister would mind me dragging her round Ikea on the way home even though she has been on a 10 hour flight" (or is that just my evil mom that does that to people?)

I have to agree that the Attiki Odos is amazing by Greek standards. It's three lanes, as you state it's well lit. It has electronic signs to keep you informed. Although as they have to let Greek people drive on it, they do from time to time flash up "this is a THREE lane highway" or "drive on the right, pass by on the left". I'm just wondering how many of those 19 fatalities happened when we had the really bad cold weather, when it snowed and then iced over. Because the Attiki Odos was really slippy and unsafe but as you were taking your life in your hands, they did waive the fees for everyone that night.

Not long after the road opened, I remember picking someone up from the airport, they were totally amazed at how Greece had changed, they'd landed at Eleftherios Venizelos (which is almost brand new, opened in 2001), and then we'd driven on the Attiki Odos. He said to me "things have changed so much in Athens since I was last here". A few minutes later we exited the Attiki Odos and drove on a "normal" road. It took about 7,5 seconds before we fell into our first pot hole. He then said "now this is what I remember".

I just wish the Attiki Odos management would do something about the staff. They smile and say stupid things like "kalimera". You just don't need people like that at 8 o clock in the morning. Be depressed like the rest of us for Gods sake!

Attiki Odos is great, but still inferior to American freeways in California.

Case in point is that the engineers that made some of the curves seem to overestimate the maximum speed safely to navigate these curves.

Plus, the workmen when doing work don't put quite enough cones ahead of them to ensure they are not killed.

Just my observations but overall I'm loving the attiki odos as opposed to the Athens-Lamia road.

That's your opinion. I think the speed limits are low in Attiki odos for the road's design.

US roads are not a good measurement of comparison, speed limits are even lower in most places I've visited (although not California).

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