Thursday, July 10, 2008

Driving me crazy

San Macoris traffic jam. I prefer these types to the Santo Domingo ones.

Moving to the DR after Angola implied a bit of culture shock to me. Angola was so different from the US in so many ways, but the DR is not quite as extreme. I pass numerous American fast food joints every day, buy American products in the grocery store, and watch American TV at home at night. Not saying it’s better, but it does make life a little easier and less isolated.

One thing I have not gotten used to is the Dominican driving style. I developed a small case of road rage in Angola and it has only gotten worse here in the DR. In Angola, there weren’t as many cars and roads to deal with, mainly because only 5 years after the end of the war were people really starting to buy cars. Because there were so few cars during the war, a lot of the drivers on the road were first time drivers and simply didn’t know how to drive that well.

Quite the contrast to the DR. People here know how to drive perfectly well- what they don’t do is respect other drivers. It’s quite infuriating. Traffic here is awful, so people really think of themselves first and grab any opportunity they can to get ahead. Unfortunately, this is usually done to the peril of others and with little consideration of what their actions will provoke.

For example, I drive on a busy 2 lane street to get to work. It’s quite common here for people to drive in the opposing lane of traffic in order to beat a light. On this particular street, they have concrete dividers to prevent people from doing exactly this. Does that stop anyone? Of course not! Cars will enter the opposing lane from an intersection and then sit there as if this is perfectly normal. Laws of transit be damned!

What’s really frustrating is that there are transit police (AMET) posted at most major intersections where these types of infractions occur. Two or three AMET cops will be posted to an intersection to direct the flow of traffic during rush hour because so many people run red lights that if they weren’t there, all chaos would break loose. Drivers will flaunt the law in the face of the AMET and the AMET will just shrug and do nothing.

I have seen the AMET ticket cars only once, and even then it was infuriating. A car drove into the opposing lane of traffic in order to beat the long line of cars ahead of her; a taxi followed close behind her. Two AMET cops came over to both cars and started to give them a talking-to. The driver of the first car was a young, pretty woman. The AMET was a young guy, and sure enough, after batting her eyelashes a few times, he waved her on. The driver of the taxi was a middle-aged man, so of course he got a ticket. As I passed the AMET cop who waved the woman along, I tsk-tsked him. He knew exactly what the dirty look was for- he just laughed and waved me on.

And yet... there is a certain grace that Dominican drivers have. They might be crazy but I've not seen a single accident since being here. I met another American who refered to the Dominican driving style as "the magical merge"- you think it's going to cause an accident but through magic they just merge.

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