Libya’s roads provide some weird and wonderful spectacles; endless desert roads –often lined with grazing camels- and hair-pinning mountain passes; battered signs and confusing road-work indications; trucks invariably overloaded with every imaginable commodity; cars driving with their bonnet open; small pick-ups with arrogant looking camels, a plucky little pony or an elaborate seven-tiered cake-stand in the back – and these are just the ones caught on camera. Whilst they provide amusing shots showing local colour, they also lay bare the hazards of negotiating traffic in this country. Moreover, high-powered cars in the hands of inexperienced –and sometimes underage- drivers, and a scant regard for basic safety rules add even more to the challenge of taking to the road. Libya’s statistics say it all: annually more than 2,300 people die on the road, five times the EU average and the second highest death rate in the world.

Should this keep you from driving? The author drove both length and width of the country without any serious incident – and one oil company recently announced its Tripoli drivers managed 500.000 km accident-free. However, this does require due-diligence and training. Following ‘DOs and DON’Ts’ will help you on your way, but they are just a start – expert advice remains essential.

Before Setting Off


obtain compulsory documents such as yellow car booklet and Libyan driver’s licence

take a ‘Defensive Driving’ course locally –qualified instructors are available in Tripoli

check on your vehicle – especially if you set out for a longer journey

make sure you have a working mobile phone and an emergency number of an Arab speaker with you at all times

make sure you have some idea of the route – uncertainty of direction only distracts you from traffic – get local advise beforehand


take to the road without a thorough check whether papers and insurance are in order

assume you are experienced enough – local knowledge varies from country to country

underestimate the toll poor road conditions take – and help might not always be at hand

leave town without letting somebody know where you go – update them at intervals and inform them when you have returned home

rely solely on maps –no detailed ones exist- or road signs -infrequent and all in Arabic- or directions -road/building names can vary-

Whilst in Town


adapt to local rules for priority; nose in front means priority; flashing your lights means you demand priority; looking another driver in the eyes means you give priority

  1. be aware that women drivers will almost always take priority and can drive pretty aggressively

  2. look around before driving off after the light changes to green – drivers often jump them

be patient and go with the flow – this is how traffic keeps going

be alert; expect the unexpected – any type of manoeuvre is possible


rely on any of your ‘normal’ priority rules - and do not get frustrated if it all works differently

assume women drivers can see you – the veil restricts visual perimeter and they will avoid eye contact with males anyway

feel intimidated by all the honking cars behind you – only drive off when all is clear

be in hurry or in a temper; abrupt actions usually cause problems

think you can predict other drivers’ actions; you cannot.

Whilst Out and About


adapt your route and speed to local traffic, road and weather circumstances

anticipate tired (truck) drivers, in a hurry, with impossible loads, meandering all over the road

drive only during day-light hours outside urbanised areas – this is more than enough of a challenge!


rely on local advice on how long trips take; it will take you twice as long to do it safely

look up into a cabin when passing and think you see a ghost truck – a lot of them are British with the steering wheel on the left

  1. drive in the dark; camels sleeping on the road, major pot-holes, cars without lights, careless pedestrians are just a few of the additional hazards

> back to health & safety


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By Jacky Baltissen