ALL ABOUT DRIVING IN CROATIA
Without a doubt, a rental car is one of the best options for getting around in Croatia. The flexibility provided with a car is immense, itineraries can be customized to your liking, and the schedule is yours to set should you decide to stay longer in a certain stop or break fora bite to eat or use the bathroom when you are good and ready!
Of course, with each positive comes a downside. Parking can be extremely difficult, especially within the walled towns where there is often pedestrian only traffic in the historic city centers (such as Split and the lovely Dubrovnik). Illegally parked cars are swiftly towed and expensive to get out of impound. Never park anywhere that is not clearly marked as designated parking. Most hotels have designated parking for their guests, although it is not always free. National parks, like Mljet or Plitvice Lakes also have sanctioned parking for visitors.
Another downside is that should you decide to take your car on the ferry to one of the incomparably beautiful islands, you will pay substantially more and quite possibly have to wait for several hours before boarding. The islands are easier to get around with a car, but it is possible to get around without one, should price be a big factor. Be Prepared to do a lot of walking if you choose not to take your car!
Looking beyond these factors, it is important to know that the road system in Croatia is surprisingly comprehensive but the quality of the roads varies wildly. The main highways/motorways (known as autocesta) have been vastly improved in recent years and are now some of the newest in Europe. The most useful routes are the A1, running from Zagreb south to Split and Dubrovnik, and the A6 which connects Zagreb to Rijeka. The main stretches are usually two lane however parts are single lane. The Jadranska magistrala (Adriatic coastal road) runs from Rijeka to Dubrovnik, passing Zadar and Split. It follows the coast and is wonderfully scenic, but keep your eyes glued to the road! The path is twisty, can be slippery and the guardrails on some of the hairpin curves aren`t very reassuring.
Bear in mind that tolls are heavy in Croatia (not expensive, but frequent); take a ticket as you come on and pay as you exit. Note that everywhere in Croatia, roads in off-the-beaten-track areas can be badly maintained and island roads are often particularly bad. Local drivers are very aggressive and pass dangerously on one way routes. Nearly everywhere in Croatia seems to be doing away with stoplights in favor of roundabouts with varying rules for entering and exiting, so use extreme caution.
A Few Other Important Reminders: To drive in Croatia, you`ll need a valid US driving license AND an International Driver Permit (IDP) which can be obtained from AAA in the USA, prior to your vacation. It is important to have this document!
Speed limits are 50kph (30 mph) in built-up areas, 80kph (50 mph) on minor roads, 100kph (60 mph) on main roads, 130kph (80 mph) on motorways. Within Croatia, emergency road help and information can be reached by dialing 1987, a service of the Croatian Automobile Association (HAK). Police can be reached by dialing 112 or 192. Additional road condition and safety information may be obtained from HAK at (385)(1)661-1999.
Cell phone use during driving is illegal and carries hefty fines. If you plan to use your cellphone for GPS purposes, or with the excellent HAK App (available for free download on Android or IOS - complete with maps, traffic conditions, directions, ferry schedules and delays, toll information and more in English) use a windshield or dash mount.
Croatia has a zero tolerance policy for driving while intoxicated, for those under the age of 25 the blood alcohol limit allowable is 0.0 and for drivers older than 25 that limit is just 0.05% (Croatian police draw blood to test, using a finger prick; it is not a breath test as in the USA). But you do drive on the right side of the road in Croatia, not on the left as in so many other countries in Europe, so you can relax about that!