The Art of Driving in the Philippines

Basically, you have to throw all the nice rules you have learned in driving school out the window if you dare to drive in the Philippines for the first time. There is no right of way, only “my way”. You have to be a defensive driver or plain lucky to make it home unscathed. Drivers here have some kind of an unwritten rules of the road that you just learn as you go. Knowing it would make your driving experience here less intimidating. Here are some of what I have observed:

I. Oncoming vehicle is flashing its headlights.
1) Move out of the way. He needs your lane to pass another vehicle.
2) Give way. He is going to make a left turn.
3) Don’t try to pass. He thinks you’ll not make it.
4) Go ahead and make a left. Either he’s being nice to let you through or frustrated that you’re blocking his way.

II. A vehicle is veering in front of you. Let him pass. It’s your fault if you hit him.

III. Don’t be alarmed when a vehicle is driving against the traffic flow on the side of the road. That’s normal.

IV. It’s okay to make your own lane to avoid traffic. You’ll be fine as long as you can maintain a space of a couple of inches (measured from the tip of your sideview mirror to theirs) between vehicles.

V. The inner lane at the traffic light is for left turn. But others ignore it, so you can make a left turn from where you are if vehicles ahead are not turning.

VI. Generally, it’s your duty to prevent traffic jam by letting a vehicle through when it’s entering from the left. You can use the flashing headlights gesture as in rule I.4 above.

VII. Entering a traffic is a game of psychology. If you wait for the traffic to become clear, you’ll be late for dinner. Instead, poke your way in inch by inch until some driver gives way. This usually works with smaller vehicles, though. Trucks and buses have the priority.

VIII. Use your horn liberally. Two short beeps for thanking someone or when passing another vehicle and one to two long beeps if you’re frustrated.

Driving around Urdaneta and surrounding towns is similar except for the excessive number of tricycles, motorcycles and trees on the road. For some reason, trees are not removed when roads are built. This makes travel time estimates on driving apps like Waze rarely reliable. Just like in other places, the common practice is that the inner lane is the slow lane and the outer lane is the passing lane but watch out for the pedestrians, dogs and trees there.

Photo Source:

The outer lane is a multi-purpose space used as a sidewalk, rice-drying area, parking area, opposite-direction driving lane, store signs space and other purposes.

Be watchful of bikes, tricycles and jeepneys with no lights when overtaking at night.




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