Sunday, August 14, 2011
DRIVING IN HAITI
One of the frequent questions I'm asked from visitors to Haiti is about driving. It is pretty obvious that driving here is different than what we learn and experience in the U.S. Here are a few samples: "how long did you live in Haiti before you started driving" I'm not sure but the rational for that question is probably based on fear of the unknown. It appears that there are no rules (there are), no protocol (there is) and no common sense (debatable). I was once told by a Haitian friend that Haiti has very good laws but no one observes them. That is a pretty accurate assessment. It starts at the top and works it's way down that if that guy can get away with it so can I, that is especially so with driving, because on the road everyone is in a sense equal it just depends on who has the most nerve and the most to lose.
Another popular question is "does it take long to learn how to drive here in Haiti?" I guess that depends on what your skill level was before you got here. If you are a competent driver in the U.S. you will do fine here but success at driving here comes from two conflicting concepts. 1. You must always be alert for the unexpected Haitian drivers are inpatient so you never know where they are at or might do. They don't easily accept that they should be slowed down by or waiting in line because a vehicle is ahead of them. So they pass you on the left or the right, in a ditch or on a sidewalk, on a hill or a curve, they have no fear of oncoming traffic always believing that the other driver will slow or swerve to let them get around. 2. The other concept is if you give another vehicle behind you or beside you an advantage of even a few feet between you and the vehicle ahead they will cut in and squeeze you out. So city traffic and traffic jams become a game of chess in seeing who can out maneuver the other guy.
Another question I get, "Is it difficult to resume driving normal when you go back to the U.S?" Gosh that is a tough one but I would say not really my speed here in Haiti never exceeds what is legal in the U.S. We do have traffic lights at most major intersections in Port au Prince and even two in St. Marc. I don't pass on curves or hills in either country. In Haiti my wife never says a word about my driving though she often seems apprehensive in the states as well as vocal, doesn't make sense to me, as we are in more danger here. My last team was from Calif. and I have a certain image of Calif. drivers as not timid but they were amazed that I passed a police vehicle that was ahead of me. They embellished it just a little by saying "only in Haiti can you pass a police car, with double yellow lines on a curve." I didn't actually do those last two but if I had I wouldn't have been stopped or ticket. Several years ago I had a Royal Canadian Mounted Policeman here for two weeks as we drove around he made the comment that he would have filled a citations book in one hour if he was on duty here in Haiti.
So what is it about driving in Haiti that amazes people? It is chaos in the city traffic jams. The streets are narrow and full of people walking, standing, riding bicycles and moto's. There are goats, cows and horses on the streets even in the capital. The public transportation of Taptaps and old yellow schools buses are jammed with people and commerce. People even ride on the tops of buses or hang on the back of them. I think for most visitors it is their first dose of culture shock but given time it becomes the norm for those of us who live here. It certainly is a good topic of conversation as we bring visitors out from the airport. SJM