Dominican Republic: Traffic Safety

Traffic laws in the Dominican Republic in general seem to be merely suggestions and appear to be hopelessly abandoned in the major cities, prompting most guide books to suggest that, as a tourist, you forgo city driving completely.

Red lights mean “Stop” only when there are several vehicles waiting at an adjacent intersection. If there’s no one there, run the light. The double line painted in the center of the road which means “No Passing” in North America is merely a decorative flourish in Spanish-speaking Hispaniola; expect to find oncoming cars quickly bearing down on you in your own lane at any time. Drivers appear required to honk, yell, and tailgate; not terribly dissimilar to New York City or Mumbai. The use of turn signals apparently confuses other drivers in the Dominican Republic, so the general consensus is to avoid using them altogether. Use hand signals instead or, better yet, simply swerve violently to your right and cut across three lanes of traffic. We fit in like natives after only a few days.

One-way roads are not determined by the posted “Una Via” signs, but by the direction of the cars parked on the sidewalk. If they are pointing in the same direction as your car or if they are heading both ways, it is “safe” to ignore the one-way sign, but when you see that all cars are parked facing towards you… think twice. To make matters worse, there are many streets in downtown Santo Domingo that are marked as one-way, but have turn lanes leading you onto them going in the “wrong” direction. Choose whichever of the two opposing directions you wish to go.

Photo © Richard D. LeCour

There are more road hazards than just lack of adherence to traffic laws. Motoconchos, or motorcycle taxis, carry up to three people perched on a bike. More often than not, some large object is carried as a substitute for a third person — a milk can, a bag of groceries, a propane tank, a prostitute, or a goat. Most motoconchos (and quite a few cars) don’t have taillights, and a few of those don’t have headlights either, so nighttime driving can be an interesting challenge. Taxis resemble recent participants in a demolition derby — rusted, dented, missing significant parts. Freeways with concrete barriers between the two sides of the road tend to have periodic small gaps at which clusters of pedestrians and motorcyclists gather in their frightening attempts to dash to the other side of the road. Last, but certainly not least, expect cavernous, bone-jarring potholes on every road, except on those roads over 300 years old which (inexplicably) have no potholes.

Useful street signs to know and understand:

  • Despacio — slow down, because there’s probably a speed bump ahead
  • Despacio, Salida De Camiones — slow down, because overloaded trucks are likely to pull out in front of you and envelop you in a dense cloud of noxious smoke
  • Hombre Trabajando — men pretending to work nearby
  • No Doble En “U” — absolutely no U-turn, unless you want to go in the other direction
  • No Entre — do not enter, sometimes used in conjunction with Una Via, which means they really, really mean it this time.
  • No Estacione — no stopping, unless you want to buy some bananas or pineapples
  • No Rebase — no passing, unless the car in front of you is too slow or has stopped to buy bananas or pineapples
  • Pare — stop, unless there’s no reason to; see section on red lights above
  • Retorno — a safe, legal place to make a U-turn on a divided highway, a lifesaver if you miss the last exit at the end of town (Sean!)
  • SEOPC — Secretaría de Estado de Obras Públicas y Comunicaciones, the department of people pretending to work
  • Una Via — a one-way street, but you get to pick which one way to go
  • Use El Cinturón — use seatbelts (strange black straps found in the interior of the vehicle that are approved and recommended by the government, therefore to be avoided at all cost)
  • Velocidad Maxima – the maximum speed at which the government recommends your car plummet into the upcoming pothole, after which your car will be violently torn apart by the concussion
  • Velocidad Reducida — slow down; dangerous curves, speed bumps, prostitutes, or goats ahead

Disregard the recommendations of the guide books and take wholeheartedly to the road in the Dominican Republic. It is an experience you may never forget. I know I won’t!

9 Responses to “Dominican Republic: Traffic Safety”

  1. Sean

    Hey! It was only 7 miles. Y’know. About as far as you had us walk back and forth (and back and…) on Boca Chica.

    And you forgot to mention the Dominican version of on ramp metering lights: Nicely tarmaced on ramp and highway, but the final 20 feet of on ramp connecting the two looks like Lebanon after the Israelis visit. Traffic does tend to slow down!

  2. richard

    Yeah, seven miles until the “Retorno” and seven miles back! And, do recall that I suggested multiple times for you to take a siesta under a palm tree while I attempted to interact with local prostitutes in order to snap a picture of them for the blog I knew I would write. It was much easier to snare two prostitutes when I was alone! Seconds, man, seconds…

  3. Sean

    Not sure that you can do it in “seconds, man, seconds” is something you want to brag about in the context of chicas. And let’s not forget just who was the first (or second) one approached by a pair of lovely locals. Without even trying, or being solo.

  4. Domicia

    Quite confusing, indeed. You can’t always make sure that road signs mean road instruction. Appearance purposes only? I hope not, maybe they just need to implement rules strictly. Or has it been implemented?

    I’m taking a neutral stand, though. Just hoping for developments to take place, instead of just mere hombre trabajando.

  5. Sean

    Richard: “…suggested multiple times for you to take a siesta under a palm tree while I attempted to interact with local prostitutes in order to snap a picture of them for the blog I knew I would write.

    Still waiting…


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