Driving in Lima – Manejar en Lima
Posted September 10, 2010on:
It took me four months to get enough courage to do it, but I finally drove in Lima! Traffic here is a lot different from traffic in Canada – there is more of it and the drivers don’t seem to follow any particular rules of the road. I decided it would be best to drive on a holiday when there is less traffic than in la hora punta (rush hour) on a weekday.
The first thing I realized is that my perspective of the drivers in Lima came from what I was familiar with, which was taxis and buses. Taxistas (taxi drivers) and bus drivers are really the craziest of all drivers here. I noticed as I was driving myself that regular people actually drive much better than these so-called professional drivers that do it for a living. On a lot of the main roads there are actually special lanes for autos particulares (private cars) which get you away from all the buses, combis and cousters. Driving in these lanes is a lot less congested and more sane than what I was used to experiencing on the bus.
Signals here seems to optional and most drivers opt not to use them. When changing lanes or turning right or left they don’t seem to see the need to let other drivers know their intention. Because of this, you always have to be very alert. People will cut you off in a heart beat. The fact that people don’t signal when turning is especially dangerous for pedestrians. I think I confused a lot of pedestrians by stopping for them when they had what would be considered the right-of-way in Canada. Here, pedestrians stop for cars, not the other way around.
As for the speed limit in Lima, I am still not really sure what it is. I asked the guy at the car rental place what the speed limit is in the city and he told me 60 km per hour. However, I have never seen one sign indicating this and there are definitely people who drive a lot faster. On the highway there were also very few signs indicating the speed limit but I tried to stay at about 100 km/hour. At this speed there were some locos that sped by me, but it seemed to be the average speed of the flow of traffic.
One of the things I found hardest to get used to was the traffic lights. They are small, not very bright and often in obscure places. For the first little while I was paranoid that I was going to miss seeing a traffic signal and run a red light. After a while I got accustomed to where to look for them and it got easier. One useful thing is that on the main streets some traffic lights have a count-down in seconds on the green light to when it is going to turn red. This gives you an idea if you should speed up or prepare to stop.
There are a lot of traffic calming measures here in Lima including synchronized traffic lights, round-a-bouts and speed bumps. I can see why the speed bumps are needed, especially on residential streets, as people like to drive fast. Also, a lot of intersections don’t have traffic lights or stop signs. In some cases there will be a speed bump before the intersection going in one direction as the other direction has the right away. This helps avoid accidents at uncontrolled intersections. When there is an intersection with no speed-bump or stop sign, people honk their horns when going through the intersection to advise the oncoming traffic that they are not going to stop so the other driver better!
Lima has a lot of one way streets. Way more than in Vancouver. I think this is actually a good thing for controlling traffic. However, if you aren’t sure where you are going or miss your turn you sometimes end up having to go quite a bit out of your way to get back on track. We had a map of Lima and used Google maps, but even with that we got lost a few times as we missed a turn and had to weave through a number of streets to get going back in the right direction.
Overall I didn’t get too stressed out driving here in Lima. A lot of the time we were outside the city which was a lot more relaxing. We only encountered heavy traffic a few times and there were two traffic circles which gave me a bit of a fright. The keys to being a successful driver here are staying alert, never assuming you know what someone is going to do and having patience.