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How to Drive Safely in the Philippines

I have written many articles about driving here in the Philippines but I still hear people ask “How to drive safely in the Philippines.” This is an interesting question. Here in the Philippines driving is, to me, controlled chaos.

Most drivers drive very aggressively. They will force a 3rd lane in 2 lanes going in one direction. They will drive up on parking lot entries to pass vehicles on the right. IF their 2 lanes of a 4 lane road are stopped, and they are in a hurry, they will go into incoming traffic lanes to pass the stopped vehicles in their own lanes. Also consideration and courtesy is practically nonexistent here.

Also you will see jeepneys change lanes with no signals and taxi drivers making U-turns in the middle of the road to get a possible passenger.

Besides that you have many motorcycles passing on the left, the right and weaving across traffic with no regard for anyone.

I had commented to someone, with all the craziness, I am surprised there are not more accidents. A friend pointed out that traffic drives slower than in the States, which is true. You rarely see high speed driving.  I do notice, as in the States, drivers with big, full size SUV’s and pickup trucks driving with a higher speed and an “I am bigger than you” and “King of the Road” attitudes.

I would best describe that you need a defensive aggressive attitude when driving. Especially when you want to cross traffic to make a turn or trying to enter a main road from a side street. At these times you need to inch your way into traffic and hope they will be courteous and let you in. Or you inch enough that oncoming drivers will let you in because there is not enough room for them.

I have also noticed most of the times directionals are not noticed but if you use a hand signal when you want to move over to the left lane most drivers will let you over.

Another situation is at intersections with a traffic light and a turning lane with a left turn light. Many drivers going straight will go into the left turning lane to get a jump on the traffic but at times get stopped with someone waiting to turn left.

A problem I have heard over and over is at an intersection with a “Yield on Green” sign and being stopped by a traffic official for making the turn. They do not understand and probably never taught what “Yield” means. This will be less of a problem now since the TMC (Traffic Management Office) personnel, who direct traffic at intersections no longer, have the ability to give traffic violations.

Some things to know that are different in the States is that it is illegal to move into an intersection to wait to make a left turn from a turning lane. Here you must wait before the intersection for traffic to open up.

My best advice is to take it easy at first, observe how others drive, but remember, if you’re a foreigner, you are considered wrong in most cases, even if you’re right.

16 Responses to “How to Drive Safely in the Philippines”

  1. Vicki says:

    Bruce, I agree with you that when it comes to driving, consideration and courtesy are non-existent there. I think the reason there aren’t more accidents is probably because with the amount of traffic, drivers can’t really drive at high speeds. The attitude of “I am bigger than you” and “king of the road” also applies to Philippine drivers particularly when buses are involved. Years ago, one of my mom’s cousin was severely injured when the jeepney he was driving was swiped by a Victory bus trying to overtake him. A couple of the jeepney passengers died. My mom’s cousin ended up with a brain injury that prevented him from ever working again (he was the breadwinner of his family). I think the jeepney survivors and their families tried to sue the Victory liner, but nothing came off it. Another instance, during one of my parents’ visit home, a jeepney driver hit my mom while she and my dad were trying to cross the street. My mom ended with bruised ribs and a broken foot. I don’t remember (since this happened about 9 yrs ago) how my dad dealt with the situation. I think the local barangay mediated, but my dad still ended up paying some amount because the jeepney driver who was at fault didn’t have money!

    • Bruce says:

      Vicki,
      I have seen how big buses and trucks will race down the road and even fly alone incoming traffic lanes. Usually Jeepney drivers are more cautious, but some just go and have no cares. Crossing the street is a defensive move since drivers do not even stop at crosswalks.
      Usually the driver will cover doctor and hospital costs for any accidents they cause, but at times they do not have enough money to pay.

  2. Alan says:

    You are right Bob . Bigger is better here and size does matter . 🙂 But i think you forgot to mention that motorcycles don’t jusy drive to the left and the right but frequently ” in and out ” or ” down the middle ” .

    Another thing i have noticed here is that there are few traffic signals or stop signs considering the number of turning points . I am told that’s because a person is cheaper than a signal or because signs disapear to easily . 🙂

    • Bruce says:

      Alan,
      First, my name is Bruce. Bob is that other site. 🙂
      I did mention about the passing all over but thank you for clarifying it. In Davao they have many TMC (Traffic Management Office) Officers but they now they cannot give tickets, so all they do is direct traffic.

  3. GraySpirit says:

    I’m afraid that when I arrive in the Philippines in a few weeks I will be giving up the old habit of driving and leave myself to the mercy of taxi drivers. I don’t think I have what it takes to drive around in the Philippines after spending some time in Manila. Kind of reminded me of Colombia … where cars have the right of way over pedestrians I think.

    • Bruce says:

      GraySpirit,
      I was never afraid to drive anywhere I have been. Was a little shocked when I went back to Visit in New York after many years in California, but got the hang of it.
      Here is not really too bad. Even with the motorcycles weaving all around and the jeepneys pulling out, since all drive slower you just need to be observant and continue to watch around you.
      At first my biggest problem was not learning the roads and landmarks because I was concentrating on all the cars around me. Once I got used to the driving I was able to look at buildings where I needed to turn and learn the streets.

      • Ray says:

        Speaking of where you need to turn any GPS available there?

        • Bruce says:

          Ray,
          I do not know about Manila but you cannot even get a decent map of Davao. I think GPS here is just Government Political System, and no comments about that. hahaha

          • jan says:

            As far as I know there’s a GPS available, but only for the Manila Region. You should check MapKing at here
            As far as I know it costs about 25 US$ to get the software +map of Manila. But you still need a pocket computer or other device and a gps receiver.
            I still have a cracked version of it, but that one is already a few years old and I have never used it in the Philippines because my pocket computer cannot stand the heat from the sun and gets over heated, even with the aircon on.

          • Bruce says:

            Jan,
            Since I do not live in Manila or even Luzon, I have no need, but thanks for the info.

  4. Julie says:

    sir bruce, careful driving is needed at all times.
    driver should be patient and should obey traffic rules.

    • Bruce says:

      Julie,
      Driving careful, patient and obeying traffic rules is nonexistent in the Philippines just as courtesy and consideration does not ever happen here either.

  5. Julie says:

    yah your right sir bruce, it really depends on the attitude of the person involve whether he’ll follow or not. i think, the traffic management should find solutions about this problem.

    • Bruce says:

      Julie,
      Fortunately or unfortunately TMC has no powers now except to direct traffic at intersections. They took their ability to write tickets probably because of corruption. And LTO has too few men to watch the roads.

  6. jan says:

    Hello Bruce,
    Driving safely in the Philippines can be done as long as you have a lot of time and give all other traffic the right of way 🙂
    I’m driving in Manila and surroundings and have adjusted already to the way Filipinos drive. Sometimes I’m getting also too agressive. Most aggressive drivers are the busses and taxis, but also jeeps and trucks. Those drivers are not the owners of the vehicle and they don’t care if they make accidents. They also feel stronger because their cars are bigger than the average private car.
    As a foreigner you are almost always wrong if something happens. Police is favoring their countrymen against foreigners. I’ve had only one small accident recently with minor damage on my car. I hope I won’t have any more.

    • Bruce says:

      Jan,
      As I said, you need to be defensively aggressive. You have to push in but watch for those that will not give way.
      I have heard the foreigner always loses when it comes to the laws. Best is to be careful and make friends in high places too.

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