Imagine that you are in a street racing video game. Add livestock. Add many potholes. Include lots of motorcycles that don’t follow any rules of the road. Prize for winning? You get to do it again tomorrow.
Driving in the DR is absolute insanity, and each area of the country has its own quirks. It’s like unlocking different areas and levels within the game. Luperon and the surrounding country roads are more rural, so way more livestock crossings. Also, the roads are terrible, i.e. constant potholes. Like doing the moguls with your car. Santo Domingo? At least five lanes of gridlock traffic each way, roadway signs that make no mention of the actual road or area to which you are exiting, and everywhere is a turn lane – in either direction – including sudden u-turns. Oh, and a steady chorus of honking, as leaning on your horn is as commonplace as slamming on your brakes. On the flip side, driving in the mountains has you doing so many switchbacks that your brakes start smoking, making your kiddo ask why the car smells funny.
Here’s a video to give you an idea, and then after, we’ll include some rules of the road to make your adventures as successful and fulfilling as ours have been.
Okay, so now that that leisurely Sunday drive through a local town is out of the way, here are some specific guidelines that you can follow regardless of where in the DR you are driving:
- Two-lane roads are really three-lane roads, with the middle lane marker being a free-for-all third lane for passing, though sometimes people also pass on the shoulder, though it’s usually not a shoulder, per say, but more like a ditch. So a five-lane road then. The two actual lanes, the middle passing lane, and the less-established shoulder lane in each direction.
- Traffic lights are optional. Don’t feel like waiting? Merge right out into oncoming traffic whenever you feel ready. Others will certainly get out of the way.
- I’ve seen some red signs that look like stop signs but nobody seems to stop at them so I think they are lawn ornaments.
- Drinking while driving – technically illegal. Will you get pulled over for it? Nah. At the gas stations here, they sell cold beer and will open it for you and put it in a little paper bag for your trip. So thoughtful! Besides, the police have better things to check your car for, like weapons and drugs.
- Park wherever you want. Literally. I mean, the cabs will actually pull to a complete stop in middle of the main lane of a two-lane road to let customers out. And they may wait there a few minutes to see if anyone else wants to get in. You’re not in a rush anyway, right?
- I think we’ve seen some speed limit signs from time to time, but they were in kilometers anyway, and who can be expected to convert from miles that quickly? Besides, everyone follows the general speed of traffic anyway. And that speed makes driving and drinking a cup of coffee or a cerveza at the same time next to impossible.
- The motorcycle is always right. They outnumber you. They will buzz past within inches of you at any and all opportunity.
Some things you will likely have to slow down or stop for at some point:
- People carrying produce on their heads
- The national police wielding rifles at a random check point
Some things you will pass while driving:
- An old man trying to sell fish hanging from a wooden staff
- A younger man trying to sell puppies
- Women trying to sell themselves. Also, women trying to sell stuffed unicorns
- Men urinating
- All livestock listed above
- Rows of vendors all selling the same thing at the same price (roasted nuts, handmade rugs, flip-flops, produce, etc.)
Now, navigating the car through the DR roads is one thing. The car itself is a whole different ballgame. If you are planning to rent a car from one of the many locals, here are a few know-before-you-go tips:
- It’s best to rent from someone that you were referred to by someone you trust. For us, the cruising community provided this.
- Your gas tank will start on empty, likely without even enough gas to get to the gas station.
- You windshield will likely be cracked.
- The tires may or may not be flat. And if they aren’t, one might be tomorrow.
- Think of the “Check Engine Light” as decoration.
- Custom car alarms cause cars to lock themselves. Whether or not your keys are in them. Learned that one the hard way.
- If the car doesn’t start, simply open the hood and bang on the battery and starter a few times. Works like a charm.
- Engine overheating? No problema. Pour water on it (or perhaps in it?)
- Sometimes your headlights will work. Sometimes your lowlights will work. Sometimes your dash lights will work. Sometimes they might all work at the same time.
- Keep some duct tape with you in case the rearview mirror or side mirrors fall off.
I feel confident that once you master driving here, you can drive anywhere. Hell, in the States, with the order and structure of traffic grids and speed limits and dependable drivers, you could probably drive and do your taxes at the same time.
While everything included in this helpful guide is 100% true and has been experienced by us, there is a rhythm to driving here that is attainable with practice. Aaron has become quite skilled at it and is fully comfortable behind the wheel, and I’m slowly but surely putting some miles under my belt. So get out there and try it! Just be very cautious. Auto and liability insurance here, well, that’s a whole other story…