Driving in Sri Lanka: Traffic Rules and Road Conditions

traffic conditions in sri lanka

Sri Lanka is a dream destination for its natural wonders as well as its beautiful Buddhist temples, but this Asian country also has a reputation for traffic being chaotic and unsafe roads.

How much of that is true? Should you venture Sri Lanka traffic or use alternate transportation during your stay?

The length of your visit should help you decide whether you would rather drive yourself or be driven around the country. Depending on the type of driver’s license you carry, you may be allowed to drive, or, required to have a temporary Sri Lankan license issued. Read our expert recommendations to find out whether you would like to get around Sri Lanka by car.

But before you depart for Sri Lanka, make sure to check whether citizens from your country are eligible to apply online for a Sri Lanka eVisa. The quick application requires just a few minutes and will help you avoid waiting in line for a Sri Lanka visa on arrival at border entry points.

What Are the Road Conditions in Sri Lanka?

Although they do exist, many of the locals do not really follow the traffic rules in Sri Lanka. That, in and of itself may entice you to consider alternative means of transportation such as renting a car with a driver, or perhaps a motorcycle or getting a rickshaw ride.

Traffic in Sri Lanka gets quite congested. Most highways are narrow and have just 2 lanes. Overloaded trucks circulate alongside poorly driven buses, ox carts, motorbikes, and bicycles, make driving uncomfortable for westerners accustomed to different driving conditions.

Locals drive erratically in Sri Lanka, and rarely stop at pedestrian crossings. Be mindful if stopping at pedestrian crossings while driving, since you may end up bumped in the back. Poorly lit highways and roads outside Colombo make driving at night by car or motorbike quite hazardous.

Traffic Safety in Sri Lanka

Tourists visiting the island country are often surprised to find that road traffic in Sri Lanka is very different from what they are accustomed to back home. From the side of the road they drive on to the traffic and state of the vehicles circulating.

While planning your next trip to this wonderful country, you may also be wondering whether it is safe to travel to Sri Lanka. Find the answer your most urgent safety questions including food do’s and don’ts and other useful information.

Is it Safe to Drive in Sri Lanka?

Driving in Sri Lanka could be considered dangerous, especially for tourists used to driving in a more orderly fashion. Most visitors prefer to hire cars with a driver, especially for longer trips within Sri Lanka in order to avoid driving altogether.

Tourists who choose to hire 3-wheeled vehicles such as “tuks” or “3-wheelers” are advised to request that these vehicles are metered or negotiate prices beforehand.

Driving Laws in Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka traffic rules do exist, although not many of them are followed. Here are some basic rules to drive in Sri Lanka, should you choose to do so in a rental car or your own:

  • Vehicular traffic moves on the left in Sri Lanka, as it does in Great Britain.
  • All occupants of a moving vehicle must wear a properly fitted seat belt, when available.
  • Minor driving offenses may be fined.
    Should that occur, you will be issued with a ticket to pay your fine within 14 days.
    Offenses such as running a red light could incur a suspended license or prison sentence.
  • The country has no specific regulations regarding the safety of children in vehicles. It is up to parents to ensure the safety of minors.
  • Driving under the influence laws in Sri Lanka state that you may have no more than 60mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood in your body.
    Should a police officer suspect that you have been drinking or may be drunk, you are likely to be taken to a medical doctor for a blood test.
  • It is illegal to use a mobile phone while driving in Sri Lanka unless you are using a hands-free kit.
  • Sri Lanka traffic lights follow the Vienna Convention.
  • The expressways or highways in Sri Lanka have reasonably-priced tolls.

Make sure to read our roundup of Sri Lanka local laws that all foreign visitors should know while planning your next vacation there.

Is My Driver’s License Valid in Sri Lanka?

Foreign nationals visiting Sri Lanka will be allowed to drive depending on the type of driver’s license they carry:

  • International driver’s license holders will need an endorsement by the Automobile Association of Sri Lanka.
    If your International Driver’s License lists Sri Lanka as one of the countries it is valid in, you will not be required to get it endorsed by Sri Lankan authorities.
  • Foreign Driver’s License holders will allow you to drive in Sri Lanka for up to 30 days, although you are still required to request a Temporary Sri Lankan Driving License from the Department of Motor Vehicles to be able to drive legally in Sri Lanka.

If your driver’s license is not in English, you should request an official translation so that it may be used in Sri Lanka.

The following documents are mandatory when requesting a Temporary Sri Lankan driving license:

  • Original foreign driver’s license, along with an English translation, if applicable, and one photocopy.
  • Valid passport with a photocopy of your biographical data page.
  • Approved Sri Lankan Visa with a photocopy of the page on which it has been stamped on your passport. If you are traveling with a Sri Lankan electronic travel authorization, then you will need to print out a copy.

Make sure to carry your original foreign driver’s license alongside your international driver’s license, Sri Lankan endorsement, translation into English, passport, and visa when driving. Should you choose to drive in Sri Lanka, you will also need to carry valid insurance. It is also advisable to keep the registration documents on hand.

What is the Speed Limit in Sri Lanka?

In Sri Lanka, drivers may reach a speed of up to 70 kilometers per hour or about 43 miles per hour on open roads. The urban speed limit in Sri Lanka, however, is 50 kilometers per hour, which is about 31 miles per hour. Motorways or highways in Sri Lanka allow a maximum speed of 100 kilometers per hour or about 62 miles per hour.

Make sure to stick to the speed limits when driving in Sri Lanka, for your own safety as well as to avoid getting caught, since there are mobile speed traps at key locations.

Safety camera warning devices are permitted in Sri Lanka although speed limits are not strictly enforced and speeding fines are low.

Which Side of the Road Do They Drive in Sri Lanka?

If you are from a country where traffic circulates on the right, such as the United States or most European countries, you may find it hard to adjust to the fact that people in Sri Lanka drive on the left.

If, on the other hand, you are visiting the island from the United Kingdom or Cyprus, for instance, you may find it easier to drive during your stay in Sri Lanka.

How Old Do You Have to Be to Drive in Sri Lanka?

You have to be at least 18 years old in order to be allowed to drive in Sri Lanka. Furthermore, you must be over 21 years of age in order to rent a car, as long as you have at least one year of driving experience. Drivers under 25 are likely to have to pay a premium for their lack of driving experience when renting a car in Sri Lanka.

Driving a Rental Car in Sri Lanka

Foreign nationals renting a car in Sri Lanka are required to carry a valid insurance certificate, alongside their national and international driver’s license, as well as their passport.

Make sure to request a car with working seatbelts, when renting a car in Sri Lanka. If you are traveling with minors, you are advised to ask your car rental company to install an appropriate car seat for children in your vehicle.

Information and Advice on Parking in Sri Lanka

Parking regulations are not strict at all in Sri Lanka and are usually just guided by common sense. Roadside parking is common in Sri Lanka, although you may prefer to take advantage of paid parking in major city centers.

Now that you know everything you need to know about getting around Sri Lanka by car, you can carry on with the more fun parts of planning your next trip such as making a list of temples you would like to visit as well as natural wonders you don’t want to miss.

While planning your dream trip, make sure to check out whether you are eligible to apply for a Sri Lanka eTA online or a tourist visa for Sri Lanka. Applying is very easy and takes no more than a few minutes on your personal computer or mobile phone.