Theodore Gazoulis, Ph.D., Attorney
As is well known, laws differ from country to country. But while
the Greek Law is not so significantly different from that of
other European countries, the distance between law and everyday
practice is, as any first time visitor will soon notice. A great
number of traffic violations go unpunished, sometimes regretfully
so (when STOP signs are ignored, for instance), sometimes very
rightly (when unreasonably low speed limits are not observed,
or cyclists choose to ignore signs forbidding bikes). In what
follows we will try to provide some basic information regarding
the Greek Law and everyday reality, which should come in handy
whether you are always violating traffic laws or are harmed
by somebody else’s behaviour.
1. The European Convention on Human Rights, which was signed
in 1950, applies in Greece as well, and it is in fact above
any contrary Greek law with the exception of the Constitution.
2. The Constitution of Greece deals with individual and social
rights, and these concern not only Greek citizens but aliens
as well (it is no accident that the Constitution speaks of “all
persons” and “no person” where individual
and social rights are stated). Especially important for the
visitor of this country are the following articles: article
5 (regarding personality rights), 6 (on arrest and detention
pending trial), 7 (specifying when there is a crime and forbidding
any kind of maltreatment), 9 (providing that “each person’s
home is a sanctuary”), 13 (protecting freedom of religious
conscience), 14 (allowing freedom of expression), 16 (providing
that “art and science... shall be free”), 17 (protecting
property), 19 (stating that “secrecy of letters... shall
be absolutely inviolable”), and 20 (guaranteeing each
person’s right “to receive legal protection by the
courts”). It is worth noting that the Constitution has
been translated by the Translation Department of the Parliament
in all major European languages and can be easily obtained.
3. Among the above, articles 6 and 7 are of special importance.
Article 6 states that: a. “no person shall be arrested
or imprisoned without a reasoned judicial warrant... served
at the moment of arrest or detention pending trial, except when
caught while committing a criminal act,” and b. the person
must be brought before the examining magistrate within twenty-four
hours, and the examining magistrate “must release the
detainee or issue a warrant of imprisonment” within three
days at most.
Article 7 provides that any person who has been illegally or
unjustly detained and deprived of his or her personal freedom
must be compensated.
4. Bodily search is allowed only when there is serious and reasonable
suspicion that a crime has been committed. This must take place
in private, as the Law explicitly forbids a group search or
one that takes place in public. Needless to say, a person can
only be searched by another person of the same sex. Also, keep
in mind that bearing arms is prohibited and that the anti-aggression
sprays which are allowed in other countries are considered to
be illegal weapons. Should you happen to be found with one,
though, do not tell the police officer “I didn’t
know it was punishable”; say that you “didn’t
know it was forbidden.” You will certainly discover that
it makes a world of difference!
5. Searching a person’s vehicle or home requires the presence
of a judicial representative and can only be done when there
is reason to believe that it will lead to the confirmation of
6. In Greece the possession and use of drugs is punished by
law. There is no distinction between “hard” and
“soft” drugs, so if you are used to a different
legal reality in your home country you must adjust to this one
to avoid any unwelcome experiences!
7. If the Interpol is after you for terrorist action, you are
bound to have a rough time... The Law is quite strict on this
point, and Greek jails are not known for their comfort and luxury,
especially in comparison to those in West Europe or North America...
8. Admittedly, everything said so far concerns pretty serious
situations... If we now take a look at the most frequent type
of encounter with the Law, which concerns traffic violations,
we can note the following:
Traffic violations fall under two categories: a. minor offences
and b. misdemeanours.
a. Most traffic violations are classified as minor offences.
Foreign visitors definitely have an advantage here, because
the punishments provided for by the Law are not directly applicable;
fines are never collected on the spot, and vehicles are never
immobilised with metal “claws.” On the rare occasion
your vehicle has been removed by a municipal or Traffic Police
crane, you must pay a small amount to take it back from where
b. More serious offences are treated as misdemeanours. Attention
must be paid here, because you can be arrested and led before
a court hearing cases of flagrant crimes. Among other things,
these offences include:
Driving without a driver’s licence.
Driving without a permit or number plates.
Failing to obey the orders or signals of a police officer wearing
Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
Driving with the lights turned to the highest scale, so that
other drivers are blinded.
Overloading a vehicle by more than 10% above the specified limit.
Exceeding the speed limit by 40 kilometres per hour or more,
or, in case of highways and fast traffic roads, exceeding the
speed of 140 or 130 kilometres respectively.
9. Should you be arrested, you have the right to contact a family
member or friend, a lawyer, or the Embassy or Consulate of your
country. In addition, you can ask for an interpreter.
10. If you are of Greek origin and have relatives in Greece,
or if you are an alien but have a Greek address, you must make
a statement to that effect, so that you are only detained by
the police in those cases that Greek citizens are also detained.
11. Failure to insure a vehicle is regarded as a misdemeanour
and is punished as such. Careful, then, because the green card
must at all times be valid. In addition, considering the fact
that many thieves show a decided preference for foreign vehicles,
it would not be a bad idea to insure your bike against theft
12. If you get involved in a traffic accident:
a. In case there is only damage to property:
If it is the Greek vehicle that is to blame, you must take down
all necessary information and contact its insurance company.
Use the form at the end of this book.
If it is your fault, you must give the other driver a copy or
slip of your green card - so that he can contact the international
insurance office - and make a statement to your own insurance
company as soon as you get back to your country (unless otherwise
stated in your contract).
b. In case a person gets injured or dies:
You must immediately inform the police and see to it that the
person is taken to the hospital. If you ignore this responsibility
and take off, your action is considered a misdemeanour and is
punished as such.
Police will arrest and detain you (unless we are speaking of
a minor injury). If you come from one of the European Community
countries this will happen only if the injury is quite serious.
In either case, what happens to you will be decided by the District
Attorney in charge.
13. Damage occurring in ships is not covered by insurance companies.
This is why it is always a good idea to visit the garage during
the times passengers board the ship or get off. Should your
vehicle be damaged in spite of your precautions, you must inform
the port authorities and the captain of the ship.
14. If a policeman or other public official causes damage to
your vehicle (while searching it, for instance), it is not enough
to prove that the damage is attributable to him (as is true
for other European countries); you must also prove that the
act that caused it (the search conducted for instance) was illegal!
15. Certain acts are not considered penal offences in Greece
and are, therefore, not punished by the Law. Sexual harassment
is a good example.
16. If you have an accident as a result of a pothole in the
road or a wrong sign, you have no chance of being compensated.
According to the precedents, drivers must be aware of the condition
of the roads and take their precautions!
17. Some driving habits may differ from the Highway Code, or
even be opposite to what it states, and you can certainly not
ignore them. Consequently, it is not enough to pay attention
to the road signs, but you must also keep an eye out for what
other drivers are doing; their behaviour may be illegal and
18. If you want to allow a pedestrian to cross the street or
if you want to hit the brakes as soon as the traffic light turns
yellow, you better check what’s happening behind you...
19. Be extra careful with pedestrians! They have never been
educated on how to cross the street and will frequently make
a run for the other side. Meanwhile, Greek courts will generally
put the blame on the driver...
20. Keep in mind that in case there is an accident it is always
more difficult for a foreigner to find witnesses! If you feel
that the situation is fairly complicated, it might be to your
best interest to contact the local motorcycle club, if there
is one, and ask for their help.
A final note: Though the first encounter with the Greek roads
may be a hard experience, or even painful at times, remember
that, unlike other countries - such as Germany or the U.S. -
where it is often useless trying to explain your point of view
to the traffic police officer, a friendly conversation with
the Greek officers may go a long way toward making your stay
in this country as pleasant and trouble-free as possible.
|Source of the
information on this page : “Unexplored Crete”,
Road Editions. For more guidebooks and maps of
Greece, click here.