Originally Posted by Cisco_k
Reflections on riding my motorcycle in Colombia
...In fact I have begun to wonder if the government actually sits down and devises laws and posts them with the idea that someone will follow them. The posted speed limits mean nothing. They seem to be set exceptionally low, like 30 kph (19 mph) on most city streets and 40 to 50 (25 to 31 mph) on most secondary roads. Out on the highway there are very few passing zones and the speed limits on all but divided roadways are 60 to 80 kph (38 to 50 mph). I have never observed anyone doing the speed limit, although people don’t appear to be driving at unsafe speeds. Passing is done whenever one feels like they can make it without crashing into an oncoming vehicle. At traffic signals all the motorcycles go around the stopped cars and buses so that when the light turns green, they can be the first to go. Passing is done on the left, right and anytime someone slows a bit like at one of the numerous speed bumps where the highway passes through small villages. At times the motorcycles look like ants as they swarm around vehicles in an attempt to get an inch more ahead.
But, and this is a big but, I am beginning to arrive at the conclusion that the drivers are much safer because they have a much greater situational awareness. There isn’t the attitude that is found in the states that one owns their lane and space and that no one better interfere with them as they ride along in their cocoon insulated from the world and texting or talking on their cell phones. The drivers really seem to look out for each other and know the moves to expect from the other drivers. For instance it is no problem for a motorcycle to pass another car with an oncoming motorcycle in the opposing lane. The two motorcycles treat the opposing lane as though it is two lane and they pass in opposite directions without even a flinch. When going the same direction, the slower of two motorcycles rides to the right side of the lane so they can be passed by a second motorcycle. Or, when the lane is wide enough, a car will pass a motorcycle while another car or motorcycle approaches from the opposite direction. It’s all done without a whole lot of regard to the center stripe. Because everyone does it and because everyone is aware of what’s going on there is no problem and traffic flows better with the limited road space. In heavy traffic, cars and trucks will allow someone to cut in and the only times they seem to blow the horns is to signal that they are there as a means of being seen. Trucks will signal when it is safe to pass when in hilly or curvy country and will also pull over to block and prevent a pass when they see that it would not be safe. As a final bit of evidence, very few of the cars are beat up. It would seem at first glance that there wouldn’t be a straight fender or door on the cars but one sees very little damage. Drivers do appear to do their best to avoid collisions.
However, all the above said and understood, I’ll still keep a watchful eye out for the crazy drivers that are surely lurking out there somewhere.
Once you get used to the traffic flow in Colombia, you find that it flows pretty well given the heavy traffic in the cities and on some of the inter-city roads. The drivers themselves police and regulate themselves, and do a good job of it at that, as opposed to in the USA, which is way over-regulated not just on the roads but almost in all aspects of life. In Colombia, as in much of Latin America, I feel like I have been given back more freedom in exchange for personal responsibility, which sadly, almost doesn't exist anymore in the USA. (Just look at all the ridiculous lawsuits--some idiot gets hurt doing something stupid and then sues--and prevails--against the owner of the property he or she was on when they got hurt.) Does passing a truck over double yellow lines when there is no oncoming traffic really endanger anyone? Or going faster than the speed limit when the road is empty? No. But in the USA, if I do that and a police officer sees me, I'll be stopped and treated like I am a reckless menace to society, and I'll pay a huge fine. I have passed slow-moving police vehicles in Colombia many times over double yellows and the officers don't so much as look at me when I pass. This feeling of freedom, along with the increased importance of personal responsibility, can be felt in many more aspects of life than just in driving in Latin America, and is a refreshing change.