Driving in Colombia – Part 4 – The Road ”Test”
A colleague of mine recently published an article in one of the Colombian English ”webpapers” that he found the drivers in Medellin to be courteous but I stand 180 degrees diametrically opposed to this statement. I say that driving in Colombia is far from it ! It will not only be a test of your driving skills but of your patience.
The Department of Transit – Transito, regulates the roadways in Colombia. They have numerous locations in cities and across the countryside. While you might face the occasional police check, generally Transito control the roads – so to speak.
Colombia has excellent laws, including those that apply to driving. The challenge is that they are not obeyed by either the Transit police, the regular police or the military.
The biggest risk on the road are the motorcyclists. They feel that they own the road and routinely disobey any laws – this includes the police. Whether it is to your right or to your left, motorcyclists pass wherever and whenever you choose. They ignore your turn signals and hand signals with complete and total disregard . Changing lanes is a treacherous task. Most of us from civilized driving countries make shoulder checks before changing lanes. Here in Colombia, in the instant that you turn your attention back to the front, there can be a motorcycle squeezing their way up the centre. They even get angry at you if they perceive that you have cut them off ! Two lanes of traffic moving in one direction are effectively 5 lanes as the motos with take the far left, centre and far right. Very, very, very rarely have I seen a driver follow in line behind a car.
At a stoplight, you should be prepared to be swarmed. You can actually be completed surrounded by them. They will also try to squeeze between any space to move ahead. I don’t know how many times one has almost taken my side view mirror with them.
The people in Antioquia, Colombia are some of the nicest you can meet anywhere. They greet you on the street and in an elevator. Put them behind the wheel of a car and you have Doctor(a) Jekyll and Senor(a) Hyde. North American driving skills require courtesy and cooperation. We understand the concept of merging – allowing another car to move in front of us. Many Colombians don’t.
In a location where I use to live it would often take upwards of 12 or 15 vehicles to allow me to merge into a line up. The other day I was in a grocery store parking lot. I reached an intersection where I needed to turn left. A woman pulled up to my left straddling the middle of two lanes. She did not have her indicator lights on so I did not know what direction she planned to turn. I tried to signal to her that she was in my lane but she refused to move. Finally she begrudgingly backed up and then grunted something rude at me as she drove by.
Driving takes patience and complete attention in Colombia, to avoid any type of accident. If you do have a collision, call Transito and your insurance companies. Some companies will send not only an assistant to take all of the details and take photos but also one of their lawyers who manage traffic cases. If at all possible don’t move your vehicle.
Many people in Colombia don’t realize that it is law that you carry an emergency kit in your car. It needs to have a simple first aid kit, blocks for your wheels, a fire extinguisher and bright orange signals to set on the road behind your accident to warn other drivers that they should proceed with caution.
Personally I lived 3 years in Colombia without a car. If I didn’t need one, I woudn’t own one. The taxis and buses worked well for me.