February 16, 2008

Safety in Puerto Rico, Part 2: Driving!

So last time I talked about general safety in Puerto Rico. Now I'm going to talk about something that actually does scare me: driving.

Now, don't get me wrong, it's not as bad as driving in, say, Tehran. But driving is still more dangerous than the United States. It's not the roads themselves that are bad, because they're actually quite nice, identical to American highways (although towards the center of the island there are some in the mountains that are only one lane... a bit scary). But these roads are so overcrowded that many are subject to constant traffic jams (tapones), encouraged by the multitude of SUVs (I think Puerto Ricans like them even more than Americans). On top of that, many drivers are quite aggressive and will run red lights (although I've heard with a few new cameras it's become less common) and switch lanes without much warning.

This doesn't mean there are a lot of accidents, however; Puerto Rican drivers have incredibly quick reflexes and so a lot of accidents are barely avoided.

Some of my most terrifying memories throughout my life involve my friend's father driving us around the island. Not only did we have to worry about other people's driving, but he also was a hazard on the road. Every time he started telling a story he would look over to whomever he was talking to and would take his hands off the wheel. I can't even say how many accidents we almost caused.

The buses (públicos) are equally unreliable. They keep rising the prices, they're inconvenient as they rarely come on time or at all, and the driving is just as bad. It's an option for tourists who want to save some money, I suppose, but even for all the money you save it might not be worth it.

Walking and bike-riding are also not good options. While people will run across intersections and such, it always seems kind of risky. Drivers also don't seem to know what to do with bikes on the road, since it's so uncommon. I've actually read a story of a público driver hitting (and killing) a bike-rider in Old San Juan... you've been warned!

Here's a short video of a traffic jam (ignore the music!).


BW said...

I've been here for 14+ months now and I am still amazed at the driving antics of the locals.

The lack of turn signal use
U turns over central reservations to avoid a line of traffic
Continuos blocking of intersections

I've mentioned this a few times on my site too :o)

Still it's an experience driving here :o)

Speaking Boricua said...

The turn signals (or lack of) KILL me. I have seen people do it so often and I really wonder how much effort does it take?

One time I almost was involved in an accident when the driver mentioned in the post above as well as someone 2 lanes away both decided to shift to the middle lane--both without a turn signal AND without even looking over! The cars were nearly touching.

I can imagine though that driving would help improve ones' reflexes, I guess.

Anonymous said...

i have been living here for years and cannot get used to the horrendous, selfish, and reckless driving. people walk in front of and in back of moving cars even with baby strollers in tow. the pothole-filled roadways are definitely the venue for the venting of aggression in pr. i cringe at tomorrow's antics that await