Tag Archives: Driving in Jamaica

30 Tips on How to Drive as a Foreigner in Jamaica!

30 Tips on How to Drive as a Foreigner in Jamaica!

If you are planning a trip to Jamaica then you may also be considering renting or borrowing a vehicle to ‘Do Road’ and get out and about. To say that I have had some ‘experiences’ when doing this is an understatement! Some of which have been part of the best fun I have had in Jamaica and others have had me at my wits end. I really love to ‘Do Road’ in Jamaica and drive out somewhere and I recommend you do too, to get the best out of your stay. I have put together 30 Tips on How to Drive as a Foreigner in Jamaica! to make your driving experience memorable for all the right reasons…

Renting a Vehicle in Jamaica

I have rented many different vehicles during my time in Jamaica with varying degrees of success and enjoyment. The majority of which have been from informal private renters. This normally works on a ‘referral’ basis, as in one of your friends introduces you to the person that rents the vehicle and you are both therefore ‘recommended’ to each other.  There have been instances when this goes smoothly and I have had an amazing brand new vehicle to go ‘Do Road’ in. On the reverse I have had instances on agreeing a rental price only for new ‘terms’ to be set half way through the rental, I have rented vehicles that break down, I have rented vehicles that have not had the correct paperwork causing problems during a police check, I have discovered that I rented a vehicle that was barely legal as the rental fee has paid for a cover note…

Most informal car rentals are at a rate of JA$5,000 a day, you may be lucky and get it for JA$4,000 or JA$4,500 a day. Most rentals are for a minimum of 3 days and the majority of the informal renters do not budge on this stipulation! The Insurance document does NOT have to have your name on it for it to be legal for you to drive. A (photo)copy of the vehicle documents is acceptable for showing to the police if asked.

 

Jamaica Hiace Bus
Watch out for Buses and Trucks

30 Tips on How to Drive as a Foreigner in Jamaica!

When Driving in Jamaica – Do…

  1. Drive on the LEFT hand side of the road. This is easy for people from the UK as it is same side as we drive on.
  2. Carry your vehicle documents with you when driving anywhere. Driving Licence, Insurance Certificate, Fitness (MOT) Certificate and Log Book, should be carried with you if the Police stop you – Don’t forget to take the documents out of the vehicle overnight in case it is stolen.
  3. If you rent a vehicle CHECK the documents BEFORE you drive off. It is not uncommon for documents to be out of date and you then have a problem if the police stop you.
  4. Check your vehicle before driving off. Ensure there is oil and water in the radiator and screen wash. Check the tyre’s are firm and you have a spare and the tools to change the tyre. Check the level of gas / petrol / diesel and be aware of where the nearest gas / petrol station is if running low. Check the location of the battery and if you need any tools to get access to it. Check the window wipers, lights and horn work – you will need them!
  5. Ask the person you rent / borrow the vehicle from what type of fuel the vehicle takes, which side the fuel tank is on and where the lever is  to open it. Your fuel will be pumped for you in Jamaica and will not have to leave your vehicle.
  6. Wear your seatbelt. Okay I know it’s hot and uncomfortable, but it could be the difference between life and death in an accident. Plus, you WILL get stopped by the Police if they see you and you could get a mandatory JA$500 fine.
  7. Observe the speed limits. Some roads in Jamaica have deep corners and multiple blind corners, drive with caution! The Police set up ‘speed traps’ and will pull you over if you are exceeding the limit and you could get a fine.
  8. Look out for road signs and do as they say! You will get a ticket if you park in a restricted area and could even be towed away.
  9. Be aware as people overtake at high-speed and drive incredibly close to your vehicle.
  10. Be aware of animals in or near the road, especially in the country areas. If you see a young animal in, or near the road, it is often best to let it run to its mother before proceeding as they are flighty and could run into your path.
  11. BLOW YOUR HORN! Jamaicans expect it if overtaking (on a minor road) or coming round a blind corner. If a vehicle has pulled up right in front of you, BLOW YOUR HORN to let them know you are passing them.
  12. Double check before over taking. The drivers coming in the opposite direction also have plans to use the middle of the road as a new lane.
  13. Visit a gas / petrol station if you are having problems with the vehicle as they not only pump the gas for you, they can also help with other basic problems and will wash the windscreen, they stock oils, fluids and so on.
  14. Lock your vehicle doors and boot (trunk) of the vehicle when leaving it unattended.
  15. Wave traffic past you when safe to do so on country roads. Route taxi’s (look for the distinctive red number plates), illegal taxi’s and local residents drive very fast on the country roads as they know EVERY twist, turn, corner, gully, pot-hole, cliff and tree they pass on the route. They have a tendency to drive right up behind your vehicle, so just let them pass. If you have the nerve and can drive reasonably close behind them they will guide your way through the maze of pot-holes as they know the road better than the back of their hand!
  16. Look out for pot holes… some can swallow your car, whilst others could give you flat tyre.
  17. Address Police Officer with respect and be compliant. I highly recommend flagrant use of Sir, Mam, or Officer when conversing with them. It shows them respect and that you do not consider them inferior to you, which often means they give you less hassle. Police ‘bribes’ or ‘extortion’ are much less frequent in Jamaica than when I first came here 10 years ago.  It does still happen though. Extend caution offering or accepting bribes. If you are a female driver do not be surprised if the officers hit on you and ask for your phone number!
  18. Drive defensively. Always expect the unexpected.

 

Tips for Driving in Jamaica
Tips for Driving in Jamaica

 

30 Tips on How to Drive as a Foreigner in Jamaica!

When Driving in Jamaica – Do Not…

  1. (19) Play ‘chicken’ with the oncoming traffic. Their nerve will invariably be better than yours!
  2.  (20) FORGET TO BLOW YOUR HORN! Jamaicans expect it if overtaking or coming round a blind corner. If a vehicle has pulled up right in front of you, BLOW YOUR HORN to let them know you are passing them. (I have written this in do’s and don’ts because it is very important!)
  3. (21) Drive wide around corners. There are huge trucks on the road and they do not always blow their horn to let you know they are approaching you do not want to meet them on the wrong side of the road. People riding on bicycles and motorbikes are also put at high risk through this practise and many are killed in this way.
  4. (22) Stop in a secluded place late at night. If you are lost try to find a well-lit place, such as a gas / petrol station before stopping.
  5. (23)Drive alone late at night (although I have done this without incident). Always try to travel with a passenger.
  6. (24) Set out late in the day if you have problems driving at night. The roads do not always have street lights or ‘cats eyes’ and the oncoming headlights can be blinding as everyone puts on their high beam.
  7. (25) Set out on a new journey without a map (again, I have done this many times without incident) if you are not confident. Have an idea of where you are going unless you are pretty easy-going and don’t have a destination per se. Most Jamaicans are very helpful if you are lost or having difficulties, but remember to address the person formally and calmly when you pull the vehicle to the side of the road. They will probably know how to reach at least the next town on the route, where you may have to repeat the process until you reach your destination. You will love the way some Jamaicans give directions!
  8. (26) Leave your vehicle engine running or the keys in the vehicle when unattended.
  9. (27) Leave valuables on show in the vehicle when unattended, discreetly lock them in the boot / trunk or glove box.
  10. (28) Pick up strangers or hitch-hikers.
  11. (29) Panic if an oncoming vehicle flashes you twice in quick succession. It is generally to warn you that there is a Police Check Point or Speed Trap up ahead and not necessarily because you have done something wrong.
  12. (30) Park too near to the sea, beach or river, changing tides can come and go before you return to your vehicle.

I hope you enjoy driving in Jamaica. Be safe and get out there and ‘do road’!

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Amusing Real Stories From Jamaica #1

Jamaica is an island where you will see things you have never seen before, these are a couple of my Jamaica firsts!

Toad on a Rope

My Mum had come to visit me in Jamaica and I decided to take her to visit some relatives in the countryside of St. Ann. We set out in a Toyota Hiace bus (van) on a clear and sunny day, and drove the usual route past Brown’s Town and Calderwood, deeper into the green and mountainous interior. On approaching a hill, I noticed 3 people at the top who were crossing the road, so I slowed down to let them pass comfortably. As we reached the brow of the hill I noticed one of them was leading something along into the road in front of me….

then I realised it was a massive toad with a piece of string tied around its neck! As we approached the group the one with the toad said

“drive pon it nah mon!”

basically urging me to drive over it and kill it. I quickly thought about the poor toad and it’s splattered guts all over the bus and having to clean it off and replied “Noooo, it’s too crawny!” to which they all fell about laughing. They duly led the toad out of the road and let me drive past, assumingly to wait for the next driver to come along!  *Many Jamaicans seem to be very scared of toads and believe they can be used by Obeah for casting spells on people.

Your Eye Nar Mek Good!

My vehicle was always giving me problems starting, as the battery wouldn’t charge properly. I begrudged paying $18,000 for a new one, as I was leaving the country in a few more weeks, which meant the bus would be parked up again resulting in the new battery dying in the same way. This meant I was always having to park on a hill (I kid you not!) hoping no-one would block me in, so I could roll the vehicle in order to give myself a ‘juk start’ when I was ready to leave! If this wasn’t possible I had to rely on a friend or a kind-hearted soul to push the vehicle to get the famous ‘juk start’, or if I was really lucky, I would find someone with jump leads to give me a ‘ol fashioned jump-start…. when I say jump leads they are normally just two pieces of strong wire which they simply hold onto the connectors on the batteries, sparks flying and all! (you have to love the tenacity and improvisation skills of Jamaican’s!)

One morning I was late and the vehicle wouldn’t start despite all the pleading in the world, which eventually turned into threatening through gritted teeth that I would sell it if it didn’t start…. needless to say, none of it worked. I needed a plan with a strong man. There is a large hardware store at the end of the road where I live, so I decided to wander up there to see if I could persuade some of the big strapping men that load the goods into the waiting trucks, to give me a ‘juk’ start.

As I walked up there feeling a bit nervous about asking for help, I noticed a boy of about 7 years old in among all the men in their overalls, leaning up against the fence watching me walk up the side road towards the entrance. As I got nearby he called out to me “Hey pretty lady!”, I smiled and walked over towards them thinking this will be easy now the ice had been broken. When I got to the fence and the little boy I said to him “Hi, whats up?” and he and the men all smiled broadly at me. Next thing, before I could ask for their help I noticed the little boys eyes all widened as he looked into my face and replied to me

“lady u pretty, but your eye nar mek good!”,

I had to laugh out loud with everyone else as I can only guess he wasn’t so used to seeing blue eyes and thought my light coloured eyes hadn’t been made correctly! When all the laughter had subsided and I was able to explain my plight nearly all the men flew over the fence to give me a ‘juk start’ much to the bemusement of the supervisor!