Given that Vilnius is a relatively small city and that its main sights can be reached either on foot or by public transport, most visitors to the Lithuanian capital will have little cause to worry about driving. If you do fancy exploring the city suburbs or the rest of the country by car, it's worth noting that despite its earlier reputation as possessing the deadliest roads in the European Union, driving in Lithuania is now far safer than at any time in the country’s post-communist history.
Indeed, over the past 10 years the fatality rate has fallen by an impressive 10 per cent. The rate of fatalities per head of population does remain one of the EU’s highest, along with Poland and Greece, but as a general rule driving here presents no more hazards than you would expect to find in any other country in the region. The poor state of some roads will be the biggest challenge you are likely to face.
The basic rules of the Lithuanian roads are as follows: seatbelts are compulsory for all (driver and passengers) and headlights must be used at all times of day or night, summer or winter. All vehicles must be fitted with a small fire-extinguisher and first aid kit and you will need to have your driving licence and vehicle registration papers with you at all times.
From October to April, all cars must also be equipped with winter tyres (an ice scraper and a brush should also be part of your winter kit). If hiring a car, all of these things will be provided by the rental company.
The speed limit around town is 50km/h unless otherwise indicated. Elsewhere you can drive at 90km/h on main roads, 70km/h on unpaved roads. Note that on the country’s highways the usual speed limit of 130km/h is reduced to 100km/h during the winter.
Street parking in Vilnius is divided into colour-coded zones, namely blue, red, yellow and green. Colour-coded parking metres eat coins and regurgitate a little printed ticket. Times when payments are required are marked on signs using Roman numerals to represent days and numbers to represent times.
A sign displaying I-V 8-22, for example, means you must pay to park on Monday (I) to Friday (V) from 08:00 to 22:00. Signs and parking metres alike can be hidden or placed miles from the parking space in question, so be careful. Keep valuables hidden at all times, including bags.
A pay-by-SMS system is in operation, but to use it you must have a local SIM card. Buy a barcoded windscreen sticker and register it in order to use this service if you’re planning on staying in the city for an extended period of time.
Accidentally get into an accident? No tools? No time? No clue as to what to do? Have no fear. There are people out there who can help. Altas Assistance is one of the few companies in Lithuania that offers roadside assistance to those in need, 24/7. With years of experience in helping stranded and damaged vehicles, it is staffed by a highly qualified team who offer breakdown and mobility services throughout the country for a modest fee (currently €10.14 for their service plus work inside the city and €21.72 for out-of-town assistance). Note that any accident or incident that requires an insurance claim must be reported to the police, or your insurer won’t believe you.