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On The Road

The traffic rules in Bulgaria do not differ significantly from the traffic rules elsewhere in Europe. Every driver is acquainted with them and is aware that their breach entails responsibility, either administrative or criminal. However, some practices on the way control on the road is exercised in Bulgaria are often found strange by foreigners, which is why we think it will be interesting to explain them.

Everyone who has lived in Bulgaria, even for a relatively short time, knows that there are some “other” unwritten traffic rules as well, but they will certainly not be the subject of the present article.

 

The purpose is neither to acquaint you with the whole Traffic Act (it is a total of more than 100 pages without taking into account the Regulation on its Application!). Our idea is to outline those most common obligations of a driver, the compliance with which is supposed to be important, when the driver is stopped on the road by the police authorities. One has to aware of his/her rights in such situations and what the applicable fines and other sanctions are.

In the first place, let us clarify that to be stopped on the road by police officers from the Traffic Police without any obvious reason whatsoever, which is striking for foreigners, is actually the standard and most common way to exercise control on drivers and vehicles in Bulgaria. The camera control was only recently introduced only in Varna (the only city with a complete traffic video surveillance system in Bulgaria!) and in some parts of Sofia. Being stopped by the traffic police usually does not mean that you did something wrong. However, it often means that most likely you will not get away easily. If the police officers wish to justify the unprovoked stopping, they will almost surely find something wrong with your driving or with your vehicle. That is why you must try to make sure that you comply with the requirements at least in the following basic fields:

1. Seatbelt – if the seatbelt is not used by the driver or any other passenger, the fine may be up to BGN 50 and what is more painful for those who have a Bulgarian driving license – 10 control points of a grand total of 39.

2. Full set of documents – the documents you must always have with you and show upon demand are: driving licence, the so-called "control ticket" (for those in possession of a Bulgarian driving license), certificate for registration of the vehicle and the document proving that the driver has executed the obligatory third party insurance. The penalty for not carrying any of these documents is BGN 10. Beware that the lack of the said obligatory insurance policy may also entail a fine of BGN 50, taking away your driving licence and forcible suspension of the vehicle until the insurance is executed. Not complying with the forcible measures may lead to another fine and additional loss of 5 control points.

3. Valid sticker for paid vignette tax – the use of almost all roads outside the towns, cities and villages is charged with a road tax in the form of vignette tax, the payment of which is certified by affixing a sticker on the front window of the car. The stickers are weekly, monthly and annual and may be purchased at almost every gas station, in the post offices and at some other public places. If you have forgotten to pay your vignette charge or its term has accidentally expired, you may be fined BGN 100.

4. Fire extinguisher and medical chest – if any or both is missing, this may lead to a fine of BGN 50. When you use a rent-a-car, get the assurance of the rent-a-car company that the car is fully furnished with all obligatory items.

5. Special seats for children up to 12 years old – the children must always stay in their special chairs and always on the back seat, except for babies who may be placed on the front seat in their chairs.

6. No visibly nonoperational or broken parts on the vehicle – defective headlight or winker, worn or torn tires may lead to a fine of BGN 20 to BGN 50 and loss of 5-6 control points.

What you must also need to know during these regular police checks is that you are not allowed to get out of the car, unless you are asked to. The police officers may ask you to open the trunk, to take an alcohol test or comply with an instruction ensuring your safety and the safety of the rest of the participants in the traffic. Not cooperating with the police, refusal to present the requested documents or to accomplish the requested action may be fined with BGN 50 to BGN 200 and may lead to a driving prohibition for 1 to 6 months.

If you are not subject to a routine check, but have been purposely stopped, then most probably the reason is that you have exceeded the speed limitations. Within the borders of a populated area, if you exceed the maximum allowed speed (usually not more than 50 km/hr) by 10 to 40 km/hour, you will be fined with BGN 10 to BGN 150. 31 to 40 km/hr higher speed will deprive you from the right to drive for one month. Exceeding the maximum speed allowed with more than 41, respectively 51 km/hour will cost you BGN 200 to BGN 250 and you will be pedestrian for 2, respectively 3 months. The restrictions for exceeding the allowed speed outside populated areas are almost the same; only the fines are a little bit lower. Depending on how many kilometers per hour faster you drive, you will also lose from 2 to 16 control points. It is easy to assume that if you lose all control points your driving license will be taken and you will have to pass additional driving courses in order to recover some points.

If you are caught driving beyond the speed limitations, you will most probably be required to take an alcohol test. With the new changes in the law, if you refuse to do that you will be fined with 500 to 1000 leva and prohibited to drive for a period of 12 to 18 months. The allowed minimum concentration of alcohol in the blood is 0,5 per 1000. The fine for exceeding it, is BGN 200 to BGN 500 and prohibition to drive for one to twelve months.

Other particular reasons to be stopped, especially in the city where the speed is lower and you can be seen, are talking on the phone without hands-free or not using your seatbelt. Using your mobile phone without hands-free “costs” BGN 50 and six control points.

It is good to know that all forcible administrative measures described above can only be imposed with a written Penalty Act prepared on the basis of an Act for Administrative violation prepared by the officers at the place and time of ascertaining the violation. This Act contains certain mandatory content, such as full name, address and other personal details of the driver, name and title of the police officer and the witnesses attending, full and precise description of the violation and the circumstances during its commitment. Upon preparation of such Act, the control ticket is collected by the police and the act is delivered to the driver – it will replace the control ticket from the driving licence for a period of one month. Fines up to BGN 50, without additional administrative measures, may be imposed directly by the relevant police officer with a “ticket”, which must contain most of the above details as well.

Most of you will ask what can be done, if you do not have a Bulgarian Identity card and a Bulgarian driving license, but only a foreign passport. Of course, many policemen are quite embarrassed and encumbered how to act and what they can do in such case, but we cannot advise you how to use this in your favour. In all cases, however, like every citizen, you have the right to know what violation it is alleged you have committed, what is the content of the act you are made to sign and what are your rights and obligations in such situation. So in such a situation, not knowing the Bulgarian language you are fully entitled to an official translator. Such will not be provided in the middle of nowhere so always use your right to put your explanation in the Act and write down that you do not speak Bulgarian, you do not know what you are being told by the police officers, you are not aware of the content of the document you are signing and you do not know what you have been stopped for. Afterwards run to your lawyer with the Act. Well, make sure your alcohol test is negative enough in the meantime!

One last thing that you have to remember is that due to the “war” on our roads the Act on the Traffic is one of the most changing and amended acts during the last few years. In attempt to limit the devastating results of the car accidents the fines for driving under alcohol influence, for not using seatbelts or for exceeding the speed limitations have increased several times, the restrictions and limitations are often changing and in a year's time the above figures may not be valid anymore.


Roumen V. Petrov
Asya Mandjukova
GPNG Law Firm