RT Cunningham


Driving a Car in the Philippines and Competing for the Right of Way

driving Whether I’m driving or riding as a passenger, I get nervous when I’m out on the roadways of the Philippines. It seems like very few know how to drive.

Most Filipino drivers don’t understand the concept of the right of way. I don’t think anyone teaches the things they need to know about driving. I have yet to see a handbook anywhere.

Residential Driving in Olongapo City

I don’t drive anymore even though I have a license. My wife, Josie, has driven the car I bought in 2015 but I haven’t. Not even once. Unless, of course, you call it driving when I back it out of the carport. I’ve spent a lot of time riding as a passenger in it.

Back when I did drive, I only did so in Olongapo City, at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone and on the highway to and from San Fernando, Pampanga. Olongapo has mostly residential streets. There are only two main roads. The freeport zone has more.

Each person here treats the residential streets as if they’re the only ones using them. Pedestrians will walk in the middle of the streets, paying no attention to traffic until the last minute. They even have basketball courts painted on some of them. We sometimes have to wait for the players to get out of the way.

People park their cars on each side like the streets are wide. They aren’t. Two-way traffic is impossible in some areas. They will park their cars on the side of the street in front of their driveways and garages. I guess parking a car where it actually belongs takes too much effort. We rarely park our car on any street and it’s only when we’re downtown.

Driving, Street Signs and Stop Lights

Many street signs don’t match the United States. They use “give way” instead of “yield”. I’ll see 10 “slow down” signs (instead of “caution”) in a row. If we slowed down for every one of them, we would no longer be moving. They use “overtake” instead of “pass”. The only signs that seem like they’re the same are the stop signs.

Some four-way intersections with stop signs have more signs in every direction. One of them is “first to stop, first to go”. That’s called the right of way. I’ve seen the last one to stop as the first to go on many occasions. The only things they seem to obey all the time are the stop lights.

Making a left turn on to the highway requires an act of faith. Traffic on the highway is so congested, we have to wait for the driver of a vehicle to let us make the turn. Sometimes, making a right turn is just as bad. The roadways of Olongapo were never designed to handle this much traffic. The city recently turned three streets into one-way streets, including Magsaysay Drive.

A sister-in-law’s husband (Alex, called bilas in Tagalog) does most of the driving. He’s a taxi driver and a very good one at that. We tend to schedule our errands when he has a day off or after he’s off for the day.

Driving Time

It’s a verifiable fact that it takes longer to get from point A to point B anywhere in the Philippines than it does in the United States. In Olongapo, the speed limit is 40 KPH (almost 25 MPH). Understandable, seeing as how most of the city is residential. Most of the time, we can’t even go that fast. There are too many pedestrians in the way and too many public utility jeeps (jeepneys) stopping every few minutes.

The freeport zone is only about three miles from where we live to the gates farthest away. In the United States, that distance would take us no longer than 10 minutes on a bad day. Here, it can take us that long just to get out of our neighborhood.

I sometimes long for the traffic of Phoenix, Arizona. I worked about seven miles from home for the last few years I lived there. Each way took no longer than 15 minutes, which included waiting for two traffic lights to change.

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By RT Cunningham
August 17, 2017
Travel and Transportation