Risky roads & transportation in the Dominican Republic

A USA TODAY analysis of State Department data in late 2010 ranked the Dominican Republic as the third most likely country in the world for Americans to die in a car accident.

A Virtual Tourist traveler to Punta Cana feared for her life when riding on the roads outside her resort. A Provincia de Puerto tourist said everyone, whether they travel by foot, bike or car, is at risk on the roads. Another traveler noted that there were few traffic signs and drivers largely ignore the rules of the road.

Several things make driving in the Dominican Republic dangerous. First, getting a license isn‘t quite as hard as it is in other countries. Also, there are no laws regarding alcohol consumption prior to operating a vehicle; only taxi drivers and others who drive as a profession must stay under a 0.5-percent blood-alcohol limit. However, the government will be quite strict with you as a foreigner if you decide to drink and drive. Drink driving spikes at night and around the Christmas holidays.

A general apathy toward road rules and courtesies also tops the list of why driving in this island nation proves hazardous for all. Some of the behaviours include failing to signal when switching lanes or turning and carelessly going in and out of traffic lanes.

The roads themselves, including highways, don‘t always have clear markings, and most are without streetlamps. Vehicles and motorcycles may not always have their headlights on. Cars also might be hazards due to poor maintenance. Pedestrian accidents are common, and it‘s safe to assume you never have the right of way on foot.

If you do decide to drive, know that if you get into a no-fault accident resulting in severe injury or death, police will keep you in custody for at least two days. This period can stretch into weeks or months.

Be aware that it‘s not a free for all in terms of vehicular access to all areas of the country. The military has been known to block roads, particularly near the border with Haiti, and patrol with weapons. Most of these figures will be legit, but beware of some scams involving criminals dressing like police or military personnel, then stopping drivers and robbing them. This is most common on very desolate roads, particularly those in the country‘s west between Azua and the Haitian border.

Other imposters include fake police officers who may ask drivers to give them “donations.“ They will dress in unkempt police garb and carry weapons and may possibly travel by motorcycle. Remember that you have the right to request identification and also to be issued a ticket instead of an on-the-spot fine. In the country‘s north, travellers reported being robbed in early morning hours in between Santiago and Puerto Plate. The main Autopista Duarte is another high-crime site, with drivers reporting locals throwing rocks and other objects at their cars to stop them and rob them.

You should be wary when riding on public transportation as well. Many of the vehicles are unsafe, such as route taxis or “carros publicos“ in urban areas, which carry many passengers for a cheap price. Previous travelers to the Dominican Republic who‘ve ridden in “carros publicos“ have reported being pickpocketed by outsiders or the driver himself. So much for a tip. Urban buses, called “guaguas,“ and motorcycle taxis, “motoconcho,“ also deserve a discerning eye before jumping in for a ride.

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  • rob chambers said

    On Jan 15, 2012 we we're making our way back to Santo Domingo airport and near the airport young men wearing brown uniforms with D.R. insignia intercepted me and pulled me to the side of the busy road. They claimed I was speeding (I wasn't) and demanded $150 U.S. or they would take me to Downtown Santo Domingo. I paid because you just don't know but I will never return and will try to get the word out. The rental car companies and tourism in general will be hurt. This was the second ripoff that we had in the 5 days that we were there - but being ripped off by "police" ensures that I won't return

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