Americans couldn’t drive in the Philippines

Americans can barely drive in America, there is no way they can drive in the Philippines where “traffic laws are merely suggestions.” Obviously there are traffic laws in the Philippines, but they are laxly enforced. Even the driving conditions are vastly different than in the United States.

Roads in the Philippines are small, the majority of which are only two lanes. However, there is a tremendous amount of traffic because of the dense population, which results in chaotic driving conditions. Roads are congested with cars, jeepneys, tricycles, buses, motorcycles, bicycles and pedestrians – and everybody (except for maybe the tricycles) are trying to get to their destinations as fast as possible.

Passing is usually done on the left-hand side of the road (much like on U.S. highways), but is done at random intervals including when oncoming traffic is visible. There is supposedly a maximum speed limit (although I have not seen a single sign), but there is no minimum speed limit, which makes aggressive passing a very common driving technique.

Horns are used completely different than they are in the U.S. Instead of blasting a horn when somebody pisses them off, Filipinos use their horn to alert other drivers or pedestrians that they are passing or getting close. It’s a courtesy gesture, instead of the rude gesture that we are used to.

It seems that everybody has the right of way. To make things even more chaotic, traffic lights are rarely found, and when they are, they are usually ignored. A few of the only traffic lights that I have seen have been flashing yellow lights on all sides, which offers very little help. Even though everybody is trying to go at the same time, Filipinos are very accommodating to other drivers and allow people to merge or cross, when most Americans would simply flip out.

Even with the chaotic driving conditions in the Philippines, I’ve never really felt unsafe while in a vehicle (other than maybe the first day.) We’ve commented several times that we are surprised at the lack of accidents we have seen – although we later saw a bus overturned on a guard rail, which is a scary sight. (Update: we also later were involved in an accident when a motorcycle stupidly tried to pass our front car on the left while it was turning left.)

There seems to be an unwritten rule of common understanding among drivers, which seems to work for them. Americans hardly have any common understanding, and would probably all kill each other if they didn’t have traffic laws and regulations to guide them.

It would be interesting to try driving in the Philippines, but I’m sure it would take some time to get used to.