Tuesday, September 30, 2014

How to Drive and Survive in the Dominican Republic

We bought a used car to get around during our 10 months in the DR.  The car-buying process deserves its own post, but for this entry, I will attempt to explain to you the rules of the road – or as I like to call it: “How to Drive and Survive in the Dominican Republic”. (Disclaimer: We live in La Romana. Driving in the capital, Santo Domingo, is another beast.)  Data from this post come from my own driving experience and from an interview with my perceptive husband who was brave enough to learn the rules, recite them on every outing, then teach them to me.

Sociologists find that in places and situations that seem random and disorganized, there is often a system of order and mutually understood social norms that are not readily apparent to outsiders.  I have tried to apply this concept as I make sense of driving in the DR.  Here are the things we’ve observed thus far divided into “rules of the road” and “words of wisdom”.

Rules of the Road
1)      Green lights mean go. Unless the electricity is out. Then you just go whenever, easing out until someone has no choice but let you go. When in doubt, just go.  Unless you might cut someone off – then, don’t go.
2)      Red lights mean stop. Unless there are no cars coming in the other direction…and unless you’re on a motorcycle.  Motos create their own rules.
3)      Double yellow lines mean no passing.  Unless the person in front of you is slowing around.
4)      Blow your horn to let people know you’re there.  Unlike in the US where we beep when we’re angry or frustrated, in the DR, a beep means “hey, I’m passing on your left” or “don’t cross this intersection because I’m coming through” or “I see the light’s red, but there’s no one else coming, so GO!”  (Notably, some car horns sound like sirens or alarms and you might not recognize “wee-oo…pause…wee-oo wee-oo” as a car blowing at you, but it could be. Especially when it’s accompanied by flailing arms in your rear-view mirror.)
5)      At intersections, one street always has the right of way.  It’s usually the street without the speed dip. Figure this out quickly.
6)      One way streets are sometimes marked. Don’t try to use motos or parked cars to gauge whether the street is one way.  If someone is flailing their hands and shaking their head pointing in the other direction, you’re probably going down a one-way street.

Words of Wisdom
1)      Don’t daydream or get lost in thought.  Focus on driving and only driving – even if you see two clowns go by on a scooter.
2)      Be aware of all moving things: motorcycles, scooters, people, cars, dogs. They typically don’t move in predictable patterns.
3)      Look for speed bumps and speed dips – which are more like canyons. They will scrape your car…and make a really awful loud noise…causing onlookers to turn and cringe.
4)      Know where a couple of big streets go in case you get lost.
5)      Have car insurance. 
*Image credit: http://static.guim.co.uk/sys-images/Environment/Pix/columnists/2013/6/11/1370970125825/MDG--Road-Safety--busy-ro-009.jpg

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