Driving Rules for Metro Manila (A Primer for the Uninitiated)

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During my last visit to the Philippines, I have to be re-oriented to the pervading traffic rules in Metro Manila. Since I grew up in Manila, I really thought these rules are the norm for all drivers around the world, but I have to unlearn them when I started driving in the United States.

This is a primer for tourists visiting the Philippines, or long-gone expats, and for all the uninitiated. As our latest tourism campaign goes: it’s more fun in the Philippines.

1. When approaching an intersection with traffic light: green means go; yellow means go faster; red means it is optional to stop if there’s a policeman patrolling nearby, otherwise you can still go at your own risk.

2. The painted lines to mark the lanes on the road are just for decorative purposes to make the road look nicer, for they don’t have any other purpose at all; you can swerve in between lanes as much as you want, and even into the opposing traffic lane.

3. When driving, put your one hand at the steering wheel, while the other hand on the horn; it is expected that you blow your horn every 5 seconds or even more frequent than that; it is a common courtesy that if somebody blows their horn on you, that you answer them back or blow your horn louder and longer.

4. When approaching a 4-way stop or any open intersection without traffic light, the rule is that the most faint of heart will need to stop first. No need to slow down, and just let the other drivers with less courage slam on their brakes.


5. Seatbelts are for sissy. These safety belts hanging on the sides of the vehicles are there for ornamental function only. Do not touch them nor fasten them around you, or else they will know that you’re a tourist or a visitor.

6. In case a policeman stopped you for a “traffic violation” and asked for your driver’s license, they don’t mean the card with your photo, but a piece of paper with a Philippine hero’s image on it, or also known as money. The higher the currency, the faster you will be let go.

7. Expect to be stuck in traffic for hours; so bring a snack, a book to read, or even a urinal. If you are really in a hurry but don’t mind to sweat, walk instead; it will take you 2 hours to drive during rush hour a distance you can walk in 30 minutes.

8. Pedestrians have the right of way at all times not just on pedestrian lanes or crossing lanes; they can cross anytime and anywhere they want. They can even play “patintero” (a popular Filipino children’s game) with the rushing vehicles. Watch out for pedicabs and bicycles too for they can go anywhere (and make “singit”) even against the flow of traffic on the opposite lanes.


9. Public utility vehicles (jeepneys, FX, buses, taxis, and tricycles) are the kings of the road, they can stop in the middle of the road to let their passengers alight or pick-up more passengers, so beware. Of course there are loading and unloading zones for passengers, but nobody really care about those zones.

10. When you are on the road, whether you are stuck in traffic, or exasperated with the other drivers, just remember to always keep your sense of humor. Driving in the Philippines should be treated as a comedy, though in reality it is a tragedy.

Now that you know these rules, please drive “safely.”

(*photos from here)


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