13 January 2013

21 Road Rules for driving in Puerto Rico

Successfully driving in Puerto Rico is no small feat. For a country that is so laid back in pretty much everything else, they are some of the most impatient drivers! Cars are a necessary evil here, since if you want to get pretty much anywhere outside of San Juan, a car is necessary. Lots of people rent cars when they come here too. If you're ever going to drive in Puerto Rico, there are some very important rules of driving if you want to survive!

1. Red lights are a suggestion, not a hard and fast rule. Actually, it's technically legal to go through a red light at night, but you must come to a complete stop first. But that's a 'suggestion' too, right? Yellow means speed up. Red means the other side still has a few seconds till it turns green. So everybody and their mother will try to cram through the intersection. The people going in the other direction will begin honking the horn. You just stay stay in the middle of that intersection on a red light though, because you have important places to be!

Speed limits and stop signs are also optional. I personally have rarely seen someone getting a speeding ticket (see #3). Going too slow is actually a hazard here, so speed up. You must be going at least 20 miles over the speed limit.

2. Someone is being too cautious for your liking? Just pass them! Are you in a designated turning lane with no arrow (or a red light!), waiting to make a left hand turn across 4 lanes of traffic? If the person in front of you is too skittish and hesitant, just pass them and dodge into oncoming traffic. I mean, they'll have to stop, right?

On highways, passing on the right and left is okay. If you're a slow driver, it's okay to be in the furthest left lane, and vice versa.

3. If you're a police officer, just drive with your lights on constantly. You're not actually pulling anyone over. It doesn't matter if the person in front of you is about to have an epileptic seizure, you just need to look cool and assert your authority, damnit! Not to mention, the lights alert everyone that you're coming... I mean, you don't want to have to stop playing Angry Birds to actually pull someone over, right?!

You probably won't get stopped for anything here. Unless you forget to renew your registration. Then you will be stopped within hours, fined and ticketed, get your license plate taken away, and given a date in court. No joke, this just happened to me.

Oh, I'm not actually pulling you or anyone over. I'm just going to annoyingly tailgate you with my awesome flashing lights for about 15 minutes, and then I'll pass you! This is especially cool at night!
Told ya!
4. Miss your exit or turn a mile ago? Just back up! It doesn't matter how far back it was, you don't want to take the wrong exit and waste time backtracking, so just back up in the shoulder, even if you realized you missed it like 5 minutes ago and you're on a 4 lane highway!

5. Arrows are strange alien symbols. This one REALLY grinds my gears, and everyone does it. I have gotten into numerous arguments with friends who do it all the time. I present to you the following scenario, which happens specifically at an intersection right by my house EVERY TIME I go through it to make a left to go home, wherein I am in the left hand ONLY turning lane, with an arrow. There are three lanes. But sometimes this turning lane has a few cars in it. So the logical thing to do is to use the next lane over, which you cannot turn from, right? So you stop there, waiting to turn too. Causing the people who want to go STRAIGHT, to have to move into the next lane. Then, you must cut in front of EVERYONE who is actually in the turning lane:

Of course, there are also cars in the opposite direction who are trying to turn too. And this road is small, and hilly, and full of potholes, just in case it wasn't exciting enough for you! So traffic ALWAYS forms because everyone from the lanes that aren't supposed to be turning are trying to merge onto this narrow street, all while not getting stuck in a giant crater in the ground! And it's steep, so of course, that's always fun when there is an inch of space between you and the car behind you and you have to stop and start up again, hoping not to roll backwards hitting him! This can occur even from the furthest  right lane as well.

By the way, the lack of understanding about what an arrow means also applies to ONE WAY STREETS. Just go whatever direction you feel like! Also, suddenly need to go the other way? Just make a U-turn! Those silly signs saying no U-turn don't mean anything? After all, arrows are alien code! Extra points if you make a U-turn into oncoming traffic on red!

6. Bored while driving? Driving is the perfect time to gab with your girlfriends, send that e-mail, put on your mascara and eyeliner, fix your dubi or rollers, or even knit that sweater you've been working on (swear to god!) All while eating your alcapurria and blasting the lastest reggaetón or salsa hit! Even better if you are doing all of them at once!

7. Turn signals and brake lights are so last century. Don't use your turn signal. Ever. People are smart, they need to keep up! You just change lanes and make turns and cause accidents, who cares? You're the one in front! Also, when some poor lost soul does use their turn signal to merge or change lanes, you must teach them the error of their ways and purposely speed up so they can't get in.

If you use your turn signal to indicate that you "called" the parking space someone is about to leave, you're just asking for it! It's not finders-keepers, it's whoever can pull in faster!

Also, don't worry if your brake lights aren't working. It's perfectly safe, and nobody will stop you anyway! This also goes for side view mirrors, head lights, and taillights.

8. White diamond lanes are NOT carpool lanes. Anyone who lives in a place that uses a white diamond, such as California, to indicate carpool or HOV lanes, the white diamond in PR does not mean the same thing. I accidentally made this mistake the first time I drove here and narrowly avoided an accident, learning the hard way!

Here, painted white diamonds on a lane mean it is a lane for BUSES ONLY! And these buses are normally going in the opposite direction. Which means, not only could you get fined, but it could be dangerous

9. Parking. Of course, lines to indicate parking spaces are just pretty little decorations someone painted on the ground, just like any traffic signs and pedestrian crossings, right? You must do your very best to take up as many parking spaces as humanly possible. Also, parking straight and well-aligned is so overrated! If Plaza Las Américas (the biggest mall in the Caribbean) gets too packed at Christmas time, feel free to invent your own parking space, even if you block a lane and not even a bicycle can get through! Sidewalks, someone else's drive way, yellow lined curbs, handicap spaces all are valid too!

You may also double or triple park, or park your vehicle in a moving traffic lane, thus blocking traffic. Getting your empanadilla at the roadside stand is way more important!

10. Have a tire budget. It is very possible you will spend more money on tires than gas. In the year I've had my car, I have had over 4 flat tires. The road conditions are not always the greatest because of the rain, so potholes, sometimes more like craters, abound! You must begin to make a visual roadmap of where the potholes are on your commonly traveled roads to remember to avoid them, like you're in a video game!

A note about road conditions: In very rural areas, unpaved roads are common, which are a joy when it rains. Also, painted lines marking the separation of different lanes tend to fade on highways even in San Juan, so lanes are not always clearly marked.

11. Tapón. Tapón. Tapón.  Traffic jams (tapones) are everywhere, and when you least expect it. During prime commute hours, ni se diga. But even when you least expect it, there will be traffic. Double or triple the time you think it will take to get anywhere, and that's how long it takes. Extra points for funeral processions!

12. Horns are musical instruments. Feel free to honk them whenever you feel like it. Especially in traffic just for the heck of it. The more the merrier! Honking your horn is OBLIGATORY as soon as the light is turning green, if the person doesn't move within the first nanosecond or inching up while the light is still red.

13. The word "merge" doesn't exist in Spanish. You must force yourself into traffic at all costs. You must not let anyone else in, for that matter. You have the right to cut in between any two vehicles you choose. Feel free to stop moving traffic on a 3 lane highway in order to change lanes to get where you need to be! Do not leave more than 2 inches of space between you and the car in front of you, or someone WILL force their way in.

14. Driving is the best place to meet people and catch up! See a friend going the other direction on a two lane narrow street? Feel free to just stop and have a conversation and shoot the breeze! Why not share a cup of coffee while you're at it? People behind you can find alternate routes; after all, that bochinche is too juicy to pass up! Same goes for hitting on jevas (girls) walking by.

15. Fake out everyone while turning! When making a turn, you must make a pretend to turn in the opposite direction as wide as possible, and then swerve the opposite way in the last second! Extra points in parking lots!

16. Driving is a great time to release your anger! All of these things might bring on some road rage. So naturally, you need to flip the bird, honk your horn, maybe even get out or your car, all while threatening and saying insulting things like:
-Canto 'e cabrón! 
-Mamao, adónde tú vas!?
-Bicho es! Ni pal carajo te voy a dejar entrar!
-Me cago en la chocha pelú! 

Of course, do this at your own risk. You probably don't want to get shot, after all. Funnily, my road rage is completely in Spanish now, even when I'm the States!

17. When you cause an accident, DENY DENY DENY! It wasn't your fault you were talking on your cell phone and didn't see the person in front of you had stopped! Start immediately insulting the people with whom you were in the accident, waving your hands and pointing fingers.

18. Don't actually know how to get anywhere. First off, street names and route numbers are superfluous. Nobody knows what those things are. When giving directions, say things like:
Keep going straight. when you see the place that used to be the old Fulano's Pharmacy, make a left. Then, when you see the tecato (homeless drug addicts, normally asking for money) in the red shirt on the street corner, make a right. Sigue por ahí pa'bajo until you come to your second Burger King and the third Walgreens. Then you go like 2 minutes and you're there.

No criticism intended, but, I have found that locals don't have the best sense of direction. I have only been here a year, am not that great with directions, but when driving in caravan, many times I end up leading a group of Puerto Rican friends who have lived here their whole life, to get to somewhere fairly well-known. Yes, it's that bad! I think the mentality is, if you get lost, don't worry. De la Isla no te vas a salir! (You're not going to leave the Island!)

19. You must pay the tecato toll. Speaking of tecatos, it's probably a good idea to keep some change on you. They really don't do anything and are pretty harmless, most of them are too strung out to even realize what's going on, but they will probably walk by your car at red lights and give you a sad face with an empty Subway cup. If you don't have change or don't want to contribute to their next hit, just shrug your shoulders and say something like, "Acho mano, no tengo chavo!" and they will probably keep going.

If you want to avoid them all together, the best tried-and-true trick, tested by yours truly, is to pull out your cell phone and become really engaged in your conversation  Pretend you just got some really great gossip, or found out your boyfriend is cheating on you. Hit the steering wheel a few times and talk loudly and they won't even look twice. Swear to god., works every time.

However, it is necessary to pay the tecato when he is being 'helpful' and 'saving' you a parking space or  'helping' you park. After all, he knows where your car is. If you pay him the tecato toll, he'll make sure nobody touches your car. If you don't, you might come back to find some fancy new artwork painted with a key over your vehicle.

20. Strange conversions. Just like the confusing political situation of the island, things are kind of confusing here. Like Gasoline is measured in liters. Speed limits are posted in Miles per hour. Distances  are all marked in Kilometers. Keep that in mind when driving here!

21. Enjoy the scenery, it's not too bad! The good thing is, these rules are universal here. Because you know what to expect from drivers, there actually aren't too many accidents. Puerto Rico does not have the worst driving I've seen, by a long shot (I'm looking at you, Morocco!) And most parts of the Island give you such breathtaking scenery while driving, so just enjoy!

View from the road on the way to Old San Juan


  1. Awesome post Ashlee. All of this is so true! The parking thing drives me nuts. To avoid paying for parking meters everyone just parks in the yellow and no parking areas. Since the meters are controlled by a private company and the no parking areas by the police, everyone just parks where they're not supposed to. Since the police rarely ticket, and tow trucks do not (or are not allowed to tow) illegally parked cars, it's cheaper than parking in a metered spot.

    Getting tow trucks to tow illegally parked cars would improve (almost) everyone's lives in PR, I'm convinced.


    1. Yes, I completely agree with the tow trucks! It would be great, especially around where I live in Rio Piedras as well. Since the bars get so full from Thursday-Sunday, if I leave my apartment and return anytime after 8:00pm, there is absolutely no parking, and it can be very frustrating as a resident! I wish sometimes there was something like what we have in Philadelphia... If you live in a certain neighborhood, street, etc. you get a special permit/sticker to park there. If you are not a resident, there is 2-hour parking only. And they are very aggressive about ticketing/booting/towing cars who have overstayed their welcome. I know that here most people wouldn't pay much attention, but it would be great if there was something like that here too!

    2. Well I actually disagree. Yes, parking may be a little crazy in some areas, but another way is it makes it easier. I can go out and park anywhere, not having to drive around looking for a place to park, saves gas. But alot of houses and businesses really do not have parking room. Most driveways are really short, and sometimes you cant get even a car in them. For some it will make is hard, but towing a car is not the answer!! Some of us cant afford to get a towed car. If it has to be done, then use tickets, I will go with that.

  2. I want to know if anyone agree with me . Worst places than PR regarding driving are New York City and Rome in Italy

    1. I agree about Rome, however I have never driven there personally, just witnessed as a passenger. I disagree about New York City; I have driven there many times. Although there can be a lot of traffic and drivers are agressive, I feel they generally follow the driving rules much more than here in PR!

    2. Rome is crazy, but I 100% disagree about NYC. Drivers are not THAT bad there, PR drivers are wayyy more crazy here. Probably more crashes though in NYC because drivers are not prepared for the unexpected there as they are here in Puerto Rico

  3. Haha this is hilarious. Unfortunately, you beat me to this post. Being Puerto Rican, I've had to tell numerous of my friends the 'PR rules of the road' before getting there. i.e. Don't pull over for flashing police cars unless both their lights AND SIRENS are on.
    Anyway, glad you learned how to be a true Puerto Rican :)

  4. I love this post! I have a home in Rincon Puerto Rico, not as much traffic but going to Aguadilla or Mayaguez is crazy. I love parking at the mall. If you can get parking in the yellow lines in front of the store, do it! no one cares!
    As for driving in NYC, I do that often and I LOVE it. It's agressive but fun and I know my way around the city quite well. I've been to Rome twice and I have to say, the driving there scared the crap out of me. I didn't drive myself, but was a passenger. they are CRAZY!

  5. I live in Ponce, and let me tell you, THIS IS THE TRUTH!!! Because of a socket in my brake light, I dont have left break or turn signal, and that is good. Most people dont have brake lights! I have driven in Indiana, and when I came here 3 years ago, for a week the driving COMPLETELY shocked me! I got used to it now, and will admit that I turned into one of the crazy drivers. really! Just today a launched through a light from a side street, no one even honked. Everyone just carried on with their day, I think someone might have saluted me! haha. I dont speak much Spanish, but I learned enough to scream out my car (Opening the door since my windows are stuck up, luckily I have air conditioner). It might sound bad to new people from the Mainland here, but really, I never had a wreck here. In fact my first crash was in Indiana. I never had a ticket anywhere. I think the only thing that I HATE about driving here is the stupid freaking pot holes! Entering the highway and there is a big freaking bump. I hit like 3 today just going out to eat. I dont care about the driving, but the Pot Holes are a problem. And maintenance of cars here? Psss, who cares, we will drive it until the transmission goes out, then keep driving it!!! Haha.

    1. Lol your comment made me laugh! Its so true we eventualy all become authentic puerto rican drivers!

    2. Haha yes, you have to adapt or you'll never make it! The bad thing is though my driving in the States is awful now :p

      And yes, I have never had to replace so many tires as in the years I've been living here!

  6. Ha! Ha! Ive been living in Luquillo since Feb and I come to San Juan almost every day. This is the truth all over the island! It was a bit much for me initially but the funny thing is, now I blend right in with them!

    1. That's exactly what happens!! Thanks for reading :)

  7. Completely true, I have lived in the north east for some time now and this list is great! I have got a few speeding tickets on Sundays though so they do happen, but I drive a flashy sports car and was driving way too fast.

    1. Hahah I definitely forget how to drive 'normal' when I'm back in the states!

  8. Haha this is so true lol! I miss driving in the states :-(

    1. Yes, I have those days too! Sometimes it's just too much to handle haha

  9. I really enjoy simply reading all of your weblogs. Simply wanted to inform you that you have people like me who appreciate your work. Definitely a great post. Hats off to you ! The information that you have provided is very helpful. speeding ticket

  10. I had a cop on private property in a Taco Bell / pizza hut Food cluster tell me that if I was in the drivers spot in a car, that it was ILLEGAL to be talking on the phone. So after informing him that this was NOT a PUBLIC road, but a private property, he insisted that he was correct. I then asked him if I could sit in the drivers seat of my car in my driveway at Home ( on Private Property ) and use my phone on my property while behind the wheel??? He stupidly said, NO, that is against the Law of the Land of Enchantment!!! So stupid

  11. I have lived in Chicago, Boston, Dublin, Rome, New York and now live in France and I am from Puerto Rico. I have driven in about 15 other countries... including Morocco. I really don't think driving in PR is crazier than any of those places I have lived.