A Haitian saying says Pran devan pa anyen, se konn lawout ki tout. (There is no use to speed, you have to leave on time.) This sums up the traffic situation in Haiti, especially in Port-au-Prince, pretty well. If you are driving somewhere, you always have to consider potential traffic jams, accidents, and other curious things that might cross your way.
It has been 7 months now that I have started to drive in Haiti. And when people (especially my female expat friends) see me getting off my car or getting my car keys out of my purse in order to start it, they look at me aghast: "What? Are you driving yourself? Don't you have a driver? Driving in Haiti is so dangerous!" And they are actually right, driving is not as easy as in Europe and can be dangerous at times.
The Haitian Traffic System
At the beginning, it took me a couple of days to get used to the Haitian driving style and customs. It's a whole chaotic system where no real rules apply. The most impudent driver wins! As most Haitians drive and don't have any car insurance, I always pay attention to not "win" in tough situations.
It is not like in Europe that you get out of your car and you can talk to the other person about the accident. No! Even if you haven't provoked the accident, it is still your fault as you are white. So you better not get out of the car when a taptap hits your back door. Otherwise, you little white woman will be surrounded very quickly by many black men and then you'll have a problem.
Another accident that happened
My husband jams on the brakes to let a kid cross the street. What do we hear just a couple of nanoseconds later? WHAM! A motorcyclist who ran into the back of our car. What do we do? We open the window and tell him, what the heck? He says: "Well, it was your fault as you stopped in the first place." And of he was without another word. We were literally speechless. Yes, we were.
The 5 main reasons for traffic jams in Haiti
You encounter traffic jams daily and this can have several reasons:
1. A broken car
A car broke down and is blocking the road. This happens more than often as a huge number of vehicles (not having passed the security tests in the States) are exported to Haiti to live their second life. Not for nothing they call Haiti the garbage dump of the USA. If a car is broken down, you'll find branches a couple of meters ahead on the road and attached to the vehicle to show you: "Yep, this is another one that did not make it."
2. An uncompromising, dangerous driving style
The usual traffic of a normal 2 lane street can spontaneously be altered to a 4 lane street. Haitians can be very impatient. It happens VERY often that you get overtaken by a car although you are waiting in a traffic jam, or for a car to turn right / left in front of you. Due to this imprudent overtaking, there are so many jams and accidents. I have already seen so many Haitian intersections blocked as no one wanted to let the other pass and all the sudden all is blocked from all 3 or 4 directions.
3. No public transportation
There is no public transportation whatsoever. No trains. No metro. No trams. No official bus lines. Nothing official. No wonder, as there is no (reliable) electricity in Haiti. BUT there are taptaps, those colorfully painted old pickups with a religious message (if there was enough money to pay the painter) that have been converted into unofficial taxis / buses for the local population. And they are all over, blocking the streets. It is more than a miracle to see a white person on one of those. At the beginning, we were wondering how to know where the taptaps come from and where they will go. Our young driver Christopher (whom we met at the beginning) told us that there are names, letters, abbreviations marked on the front doors. So you just have to decipher those codes in time, make a sign with your hand and if you are lucky the taptap driver stops to give a haul.
4. A terrible infrastructure
The infrastructure is so bad. Cars have to slow down in Port-au-Prince at some point since there are so many holes, missing manhole covers, deformed tarmac. There are paved streets here, yes! But there are also so many dirt roads, even and especially in the capital. You really need to have an SUV kind of car to survive the war of the roads. Those roads and their conditions, force vehicles to slow down and cause again traffic jams.
5. No traffic signs, lights or rules anyone is adhering to
There are no traffic lights. Well, I am lying. I have already seen 4 traffic lights in total here in Port-au-Prince. And you are lucky as I have added a photo with a traffic light on in this post. Moreover, there are a couple of roundabouts but the Haitian people have not grasped the system behind it to help them regulate traffic. On the contrary, it is just another reason for traffic to slow and eventually stop. Missing traffic lights, no real official rules and no one knowing who should go first also slows traffic and eventually ends up in a jam.
Another last example
I actually had a different post in mind when I started this article but I'll write about it soon.
I just wanted to finish up with the worst traffic jam example that has happened to a friend. She was stuck with her husband and two small children in a huge traffic jam waiting for 6 hours in the dark in one of Port-au-Prince worst neighborhood. They had no water or food, couldn't go to the loo and were stuck in the car for this long!
So if you intend on driving in Haiti, make sure, if you go out for the day or the weekend, to always have some water in the car and that your tank is full. In the end, it is all about attitude and what you make of it. The best way is to not be by yourself in the car. It is always safer to have someone with you, for security and entertainment.
I hope you liked my post. What has been your worst traffic experience so far? Where was it?
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