Driving in Paraguay can be treacherous. Here are a few of the questionable behaviors we’ve witnessed that seem to pass for the rules of the road here:
At an intersection, drivers on a cobblestone street must yield to drivers on a paved street. If a driver crosses a speed bump approaching an intersection, then that driver must yield to cross traffic. There are no “yield” signs; drivers are just expected to know the rules.
Motorcycle helmets appear optional and rules for motorcycle operation seem relaxed. We’ve seen several motorcycle drivers and passengers holding but not wearing helmets (maybe they didn’t want to mess up their hair?). We’ve seen motorcycles (and even once a car!) driving on the sidewalk (& not necessarily in the same direction as street traffic) in order to escape heavy traffic in the streets. We’ve even seen a motorcyclist wearing no helmet, texting and wearing ear buds all while riding a motorcycle in heavy traffic. We have also seen parents and little kids riding motorcycles together. These were not two-seater motorcycles; rather the kid just sits on the parent’s lap, but at least the parents and kids were both wearing helmets. Shockingly, we’ve also seen little kids riding on the handlebars of motorcycles!
Car seats seem optional. We have seen young kids riding in the front passenger seat by themselves, riding on the front seat in a person’s lap (no seat belts), and one day we even saw eight kids riding in the back of pickup truck (most were standing up). Actually, I think the only child car seats we have seen here have been in the cars of Americans.
Watch out for equestrian traffic. Horses and horse-drawn carts are a common sight here on city streets.
A two-lane street can instantly become a four-lane street as it is perfectly acceptable to drive into oncoming traffic in order to pass a slower moving vehicle in front of you.
Honk frequently, especially to express displeasure with fellow drivers, whether they’re moving too slowly or are otherwise obstructing your movement.
One-way streets are not clearly marked. As you look down a street that is one-way with traffic heading towards you, there will likely be no “do not enter” or “one way traffic” signs. Instead, you have to look for the sign with the street name and on that sign there will either be one arrow indicating the direction of traffic, or two arrows indicating that the street has two-way traffic. Note that many intersections do not contain any sign at all identifying the street name and many street names change from block to block.
Pedestrians beware. No one, and I mean no one, is going to stop for you. This is quite different from California where the pedestrian is king!
Stoplights at intersections are very difficult to see if you are the first vehicle stopped at the light, as the stoplights at most intersections do not hang overhead and across the street. Typically, there is one single stoplight on a pole off to the right of the intersection. The pole however is usually behind the first car and out of the line of vision of the driver in the first vehicle. When the traffic light turns from red, first there is a quick burst of the yellow light followed by a solid green light. The only way the first car in line knows to start driving is if he has stopped well before the intersection or if the vehicles in line behind him start honking madly.
In nearly every parking lot there are security guards to help you find a parking spot and direct your vehicle into it. The guards then watch over the cars while the owners are out and about. Many times a car wash is also available. Don’t forget to tip them!
Watch out for trees growing in the middle of the road.
On a parkway in the middle of a busy street, we have seen a children’s playground. It doesn’t look very safe. There’s a short simple fence (really, just a low, metal bar) that any little kid could climb or stumble over. So watch out for kids playing in traffic. (Patrick doesn’t understand why we won’t let him play at that playground).
The unpaved roads are so incredibly bumpy. And believe it or not, we have heard that they were designed to be that way. Paraguayans, who have been in many wars, deliberately made the roads so uneven in order to prevent the easy movement of cannons and heavy artillery. Only in recent years has the government started to pave over the busiest streets.
At stop lights in the middle of busier intersections, watch out for street performers including a husband and wife clown duo, a guy spinning a ball on a stick on his head while juggling bowling pins and a girl doing a flag routine.
Look out for street vendors (of all sorts of things from fruits and veggies to the Paraguayan specialty bread called “chipa” to iPad covers to windshield wipers) and window washers (including a new mom who holds her sometimes-breastfeeding infant baby in one hand and cleans windshields with the other).
If these rules have left you feeling confused and unsure about driving here, don’t worry. The local driving school – called “Route 66 Auto Escuela” can help you get the hang of things! (They drove by me so quickly that I wasn’t able to take a picture!)