Judging from numerous comments online, the expatriate community in general are highly critical of Portuguese drivers (some have a tendency to be critical of most things in Portugal). I am sure most of you have read the ever recurring criticisms, “they don’t use their indicators, overtake recklessly” etc. We have all seen these things happen, but it’s not just in Portugal.

I drive a lot, and occasionally see some dangerous overtaking, lack of signalling, but it’s no worse than most other countries I have driven in. There is always a percentage of ‘idiot’ drivers, but that not unique to Portugal.

There is a possibly valid argument that some drivers are impatient. Stuck in single line traffic on secondary roads, their impatience can get the better of them and lead to unwise overtaking. This point is easily proved by observing driving on the motorways. The dual carriageways allow drivers to overtake at will, and personally, and I do stress personally, I very rarely see bad driving on these roads.

On secondary roads, such as the EN125 in the Algarve, the road authorities have implemented flexible posts along the middle of the road to prevent overtaking in dangerous places. Not everyone likes these but they do a very good job. More roundabouts have been constructed to slow traffic down and make turning off the road much safer.

The bigger the motorbike, the safer the driver

It’s also interesting to note that in the past, regarding motorcycles, the worst offenders were the underpowered bikes that wanted to be ‘big bikers’. Now that larger and more powerful motorbikes are available, standards seem to have improved quite dramatically. Those with the big powerful bikes have nothing to prove. The general rule seems to be, the bigger the bike, the more sensible the driver. And vice versa! Not always but usually.

Interestingly, Greece had the highest share of motorcyclist’s road fatalities in 2020.

What are the statistical facts

Portugal is nowhere near the top of the list of the worst European countries for road deaths per capita, and in the last ten years has reduced road deaths by 20.9 percent. Spain (22.7 percent) and France (21.7 percent) have made even better progress in the last ten years. The safest countries to drive in are the Scandinavian countries, no surprise there, and the UK.

Out of the 32 countries monitored by the ETSC Road Safety Performance Index (PIN) programme, 16 countries reduced road deaths in 2018. The best results were achieved by Slovakia with a 17 percent decrease, Israel with 13 percent, Slovenia with 12 percent, Lithuania with 11 percent and Bulgaria with 10 percent. Road deaths increased in ten countries, while progress stagnated in six. Portugal was not in either of those last categories.

In terms of road accident as opposed to road deaths, Portugal sits in the middle. The worst country for road accidents is Bulgaria, and the lowest is Sweden.

Look for yourself

In the last few days, I have been carefully observing the traffic around me as I drive the EN125. I haven’t been ‘tailgated’ nor have I seen anyone being ‘tailgated’. Yes, I know it happens, but these days it’s quite rare. No doubt I will get extensive responses telling me of their personal observations, but I challenge you to look around, and be honest with yourself, driving has improved. Most drivers use their indicators, I didn’t see any crazy overtaking.

This won’t be a particularly popular point of view with a certain group of people who tend to be critical. I simply challenge you to look around, and perhaps you will see that driving has improved. Whichever country you are driving in, you will see you fair share of bad or irresponsible drivers, it’s not restricted to Portugal. Mobile phones do continue to be quite a problem, but that’s everywhere. Long distance lorry drivers in the UK are constantly causing accidents while using their mobiles, sometimes even texting. The GNR are doing their best to control this, but it’s a real challenge as it’s easy to hide your phone when you see the police. Be honest, have you never used your mobile in the car?

Driving has improved

In Lagoa there are two pedestrian crossings that I use quite a lot. 99 percent of drivers stop to allow you to cross. The only recent exception was a woman talking on her mobile. We love our mobiles, but they are a menace in the car unless they are totally hands free.

Otherwise, I believe we need to ditch our preconceived ideas about drivers in Portugal and accept things have improved. You only have to look to see! I fully expect to be bombarded with people giving examples of bad driving they have experienced. Was it recent? Can we actually accept that the standard of driving in Portugal has improved, the statistics prove it. You may not trust statistics but look around you.


Resident in Portugal for 50 years, publishing and writing about Portugal since 1977. Privileged to have seen, firsthand, Portugal progress from a dictatorship (1974) into a stable democracy. 

Paul Luckman