The Official-Unnoficial Rules of Driving in Paraguay

Driving in Paraguay, heck, even being a passenger in a moving vehicle in Paraguay, is like playing chicken…it’s risky. I mean…maybe its not that bad…but most of the time, it’s a little scary, and sometimes much more depending on who the driver is. If you don’t believe me, read on. The following are a combination of my own observations, personal experiences, and asking friends & family what it’s like to drive here. The ones in quotation marks are direct quotes, not observations.

  1. “The rule is that there are no rules. Never trust anyone to follow traffic laws.”
  2. Lanes? bwah! The more cars you can fit side-by-side on the street, the better, especially when taking off at a traffic light. See #7.
  3. Move over for ambulances and honk like crazy when you see/hear one coming. Ambulances don’t often arrive where they need to go in time. See #2 for the reason why. I wrote about this experience 4 years ago.
  4. “Do something without thinking how it will affect other drivers.”
  5. “Be careful, but strong”
  6. “If you are too timid, you’ll never be able to drive”
  7. You can sit at a traffic light for 10 minutes if you’re not careful, so If you are 1st/3rd/15th, whatever number in line at the stop light, it doesn’t matter-cut in front of all the cars ahead of you by going against traffic, speeding ahead and swerving back into your own lane. This happens all the time. See #2. Watch this video of my husband doing this very move: 
  8. “Find the gray zone in traffic law and drive there”
  9. “Don’t act scared of other drivers. They have brakes too…they’ll brake if they must.”
  10. “Drive like you own the road.”
  11. “If you show weakness, they’ll take you down.”
  12. Some roads are paved, others are cobblestone. Just because they are paved, don’t expect them to be smooth. Sometimes only one lane of the road is paved!
  13. There are often trees growing out of the middle of the road or the road was paved around them. Either way, don’t take your eyes off the road. You might hit a tree. 
  14. There are two police forces here: Crime police and Traffic Police. Crime police do not handle traffic cases and if a Traffic Police officer wants to pull you over, they will not drive behind you with their lights flashing like in the U.S. They usually have roadblocks or will be set up on the side of the road and wave you down. You must stop.
  15. There is NO legal alcohol-blood limit in Paraguay. If you had ANY alcohol, you cannot drive.
  16. Traffic Police often set up roadblocks in the evenings to stop whoever they want administer a breathalyzer. You must comply. See #15.
  17. Stop signs don’t exist. I’ve seen maybe a total of 5. Even then, it is your choice to obey it.
  18. You just have to know which streets are one-way streets, which ones have a different speed limit, or have the right of way. Not knowing can get you killed. Literally. (hint: look at the direction the cars are parked on the side of the street-that can tell you the direction of traffic)
  19. Speed bumps are used instead of stop signs to control the flow and speed of traffic. . They’re called “Lomadas“and are hella annoying, but necessary.
  20. In the city, the speed limit is about 50-60 km/hr and outside the city it’s (posted) 80 km/hr. You can drive much faster, just don’t get caught.
  21. Local city busses stop every block or so and stick to the right side of the road. Don’t get stuck behind them.
  22. When making a turn, instead of going in front of the car in the opposing lane like in the U.S., go behind the car so they can go straight too. This is being polite.
  23. Infant/Child car seats are not required by law in Paraguay, but are becoming more common. Many still don’t use them because they are quite pricy.
  24. Fit in as many people as you can into a vehicle–any kind of vehicle.IMG_0017
  25. Seat belts? What are those?
  26. You have to know how to parallel park. If you don’t, don’t even bother trying to park anywhere in a city.
  27. Drive in the middle of the road if you’re not sure which lane of cars will pass the green light or do what you want to the fastest. This will ensure that you can swerve left or right at any given moment without the slightest thought to anyone!
  28. If you’re driving in the right lane and there’s an obstacle in your lane, DO NOT slow down or stop. Instead swerve into the left lane without caution. Any vehicle can do this-cars, motorcycles, and city busses.
  29. Children do not need to be placed in car seats or bucked up. If they want to roam around the car, that is perfectly fine.
  30. You can park your car anywhere you want, including on the side of any street, even if that reduces the already-crowded 2-lane street down to a barely 1-lane street.
  31. If you want to purchase something from a street vendor, put on your hazard lights (if you’re nice) to signal that you’re stopping traffic while you do so, thus making everyone wait for you to buy your crap.
  32. If you’re 2 blocks away from the traffic signal and traffic isn’t moving, start honking your horn to tell everyone in front to move and to make your displeasure known to all.
  33. If you drive in the morning, you must have a really bad attitude and stare people down.

As you can see, driving here is quite an adventure-every time. I haven’t had the chance to learn stick-shift yet, and as most vehicles here are manual, I won’t be driving them any time soon. I’ve driven once and it was nerve-wracking.  I drove less than a mile to the grocery store, on back streets, at night, in a mini-van. Yea…I was scared and I’m not afraid to admit it. At least is was a start!

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