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How to Drive in the Philippines

In the past I have written about how crazy the drivers are in the Philippines. Now I want to tell you how to drive here. I basically know how it is in Davao, but it is similar all over the country. Sometimes better, sometimes worse.

I will describe using the theory of being on the right side of the road, not the English system of driving on the left.

Defensive driving is the key. You need to watch the vehicles in front of you, next to you and behind you. I will describe using the theory of being on the right side of the road, not the English system of driving on the left.

In America and I would guess most countries you stay in the right or slow lane except to pass. This is a habit I am constantly trying to break. Here the right lane stops constantly because of Jeepneys stopping to pick of or discharge passengers.

You need to use side mirrors constantly because motorcycles will pass on your left, right or in front of you. Even if you’re in the right lane they will squeeze alone the curb.

If you’re driving off the main 4 lane roads and come to an intersection, slow down, vehicles will cross the intersection without looking. They will cut through a corner gas station instead of going to the corner.

If you come to an intersection and you want to make a left turn you either have to wait for a break in traffic but you might have to wait a long time. The other way is slowly nose your way in.

If there is a TMC Officer directing traffic to enter a main road from a side road, and your making a left turn, he will stop traffic coming from left but not from the right, so as you enter to make the turn watch oncoming traffic from the right.

At Malls, schools, Churches on Sunday mornings and heavy rider areas there will be many Jeepneys looking for customers. As you get near, get to left lane and watch for Jeepneys pulling out to get into traffic or to pass others.

Passing is a constant way of driving. If you’re on a 2 lane road and behind a slow moving tricycle or any slow moving vehicle, you will probably want to pass them. Also when you’re driving watch out for incoming traffic passing someone in your lane. This is also a problem on the bigger hi-ways with trucks and buses will jump into oncoming lanes to pass traffic.

You also need to watch out for pedestrians, they will cross streets anywhere. There are pedestrian crossing lanes but I have never seen traffic stop for anyone crossing the street.

In Davao there is LTO Officers (Land Transportation Office) but mostly you will see TMC Officers (Traffic Management Center). They will me at intersections and at heavy traffic locations. They will blow their whistles to get traffic to move or to stop. Hand signals are confusing. To get you to move, they do not usually use large arm signals. There is also no rule or consent. Mostly I see a partially outstretched hand, palm down and finger movement like a hand wave such as an upturned hand used to call a baby or child.

Also if you drive at night, not all streets are lighted and many vehicles do not turn on their lights. I was told to have my windows tinted. I started out with medium tint on windshield and dark sides and rear. Because of the loss of visibility at night I had the side window tint trimmed off to see the side mirrors and the lower part of windshield changed to a mirror coating that is clear at night so you can see. Even with that I have almost rear ended vehicles on dark street with no lights at all.

There is very little courtesy or consideration from most drivers, so you need to be very defensive. At first you will get stressed and upset, you will want to scream but remember, this is how things are here. You cannot change it, so accept it and go on with your life. Or else, use public transportation.

18 Responses to “How to Drive in the Philippines”

  1. Mike Peltzman says:

    I agree with you 100 percent Bruce. That’s why i am going to continue to use the public transportation for now. Anyway you enjoy your trip to Gensan. If you any info on Gensan and your friend can’t help please feel free to contact me. I have been there 3 times in the last 2 years and i know Gensan pretty well. Good luck and have a safe trip.

    Your friend,

    Mike Peltzman

    • Bruce says:

      The friends I am meeting in GenSan are Filipinos and have lived there their whole live except Evelyn who works in California. I think they know GenSan pretty good, but if they have a problem, I will defiantly contact you for your knowledge and advise. 🙂

  2. Hi Bruce,
    You give a good insight to driving there. Defensive soemtime however gets you into trouble – you may well get more aggressive as time goes by and join the crowds.
    Good philosophy you can’t beat ’em so join ’em!

  3. Mindanao Bob says:

    I’m with Martin in Bulgaria. I don’t drive defensively here, I drove offensively. Why be on defense if you can be on offense? The more aggressively you drive, the better here! That’s my experience anyway.

    • Bruce says:

      What I meant about defensively aggressive. I know how to get into lanes and through traffic, but without forcing screeching breaks or too much horn honking.

  4. Mike Peltzman says:

    Hello Bruce. That’s good that you will be with friends that have lived there whole life in Gensan. They will know their way around that area for sure. If you get a chance you may want to contact my friend, Paul Partridge who owns the South Point Divers in Maasim, Sarangani. It’s only 30 kilometers south of Gensan. The drive there has some very scenic views somewhat like driving on the Pacific Coast Highway in California and their resort is really nice for a day trip. It only takes about 30 minutes to get there from Gensan if you have your own private car which you have. The resort name is Lemlunay Resort and their dive shop name is South Point Divers. If you are interested, you can contact Paul Partridge on his cell number, 0920-9149259. He has lived his whole life in Gensan and he is very very friendly and knowledgeable about anything in the Philippines. He speaks and communicates in perfect english. You take care and have a good time in Gensan.

    Your friend,


  5. Ray says:

    Of course they do not turn on their lights at night. It consumes more gas LOL

    • Bruce says:

      That is the thought here, lights on will kill their battery or use gas. Well, once they get creamed by a truck, they it will not cost them anything except maybe their life.

  6. ceblogger says:

    it’s a different driving experience here in Manila. One got to compete with buses and jeeps in the city roads. At the highways like SLEX, it’s like everybody’s racing at 80-130kph.

    So very unlike Cebu.

  7. *lynne* says:

    Ah, the motorcyclists… I ranted about one almost-encounter a few years ago … they run rampant on the streets of Malaysia too. Since I’m more used to driving in the US than in Malaysia by this time, when I do go back to KL I take my time before getting into the driver’s seat. Bad enough I need to get back to driving on the other side of the road, then having to watch out for the motorcyclists? Yikes!!

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