Culture Shock! Rules of the Road in South America

In the United States there are many laws that definite exactly how one i supposed to drive while on public streets.  Every vehicle is meant to follow the same rules no matter how big, small, expensive, or cheap.  In South America, the rules seem to be a little different.  Here are a few things that we have determined…

  1. Stop signs are only a suggestion and in general mean you should slightly slow down and honk your horn to let every else (who are also not stopping) know that you are not stopping.
  2. A traffic light, though very uncommon, is to be followed more closely than a stop sign.  At a red light cars will, in general, stop at least until they get bored, and then of course, honk before they run it.
  3. Most intersections have no signal and conform to the “General Rules of Intersections” which go something like this:
    • If the street isn’t crowded, then you can probably just blow your horn and cruise right through without looking.  Maybe speed up a bit to lessen the chances of being hit.
    • If multiple cars get to the intersection at the same time, the order in which you go depends on the size of your vehicle, i.e. semis and buses go first, then vans, then taxis and cars, then motorcycles.
  4.  Motorcycles can usually squeeze in between everyone else because it’s not necessary to stay in lanes.  A two-lane road will usually have three lanes of cars with “motos” sneaking in between.
  5. Bicycles go last and people even after them.  Never EVER walk into a road when a car is coming, even if you have a “Walk” sign at a crosswalk, because people will not even slow down.  They will probably honk at you and pray that you don’t make a very big dent.  Unless, however, you think you weigh more than the vehicle coming at you, in which case they may stop for you.
  6. When driving around corners, people don’t stay on the right but rather take the shortest distance, cruising all the way to left like racecar drivers, possibly honking if they can’t see around the bend.
  7. When on a narrow, dirt, one-lane road, if two vehicles are coming towards each other, whichever one is smaller has to somehow back up, nearly go off a cliff, whatever, in order to let the bigger one pass.

This might all seem very crazy and unsafe, but we have seen significantly less traffic accidents here than we do back home in the U.S.A.  Why this is, we can only guess.  Maybe it’s because no one has insurance so they don’t have the option of “Yeah!  Let them hit me and buy me a new car!”  Or maybe everyone’s car is so precious to them that crashing is not an option.  When we first arrived, I was scared silly every time we got in a car, but now I’ve realized that it was mostly only frightening because it was different.  I do think it’s not as good of a system and probably less safe, but because of all the insanity people in general are better drivers.  Not safe drivers, but more skilled at maneuvering to avoid accidents.  Having said that, I’m still not sure I could safely drive here myself and don’t want to try!