In relocating to an island from the US, there are so many new things to wrap your head around. Practically everything is different – none more so than driving. On my island, you do not pump your own gas – ever – and driving here can be likened to suicide. You just never know what is going to happen at any given time. We have a plethora of taxi cabs on the island (to transport the many tourists arriving on cruise ships daily) and very few of them have had any formal driver’s training. They routinely pass on blind curves, overtake several cars at a time, pass on hills, and even pass on the right hand side of your car where there is barely any road to drive on in the first place. Add to that the motorcycles – there are hundreds here, and they are worse than the cab drivers in terms of risky behavior on the roads. I have seen as many as five people on one motorcycle: small child first, Dad, small baby, Mom, and older child holding on for dear life on the back. This is despite the traffic law that limits riders to two per motorcycle. I fear for their lives, as well as my own on these island roads.
If you are a legal resident of Roatán, the law states that you must have a Honduran driver’s license (HDL). I have been a resident since December of 2013 and am now considered an “immigrant” (having been here for five years, I was upped to “immigrant” status, which means I only have to renew my visa every five years instead of annually) and I still do not have a HDL. My Washington state driver’s license is valid until 2021 and I have used it at road stops here on Roatán many times along with my residency card and haven’t had any issues in the past.
However, just a few weeks ago, the island police decided to crack down on those without Honduran driver’s licenses. They began stopping people and telling them a variety of things, including that A) if you don’t speak Spanish, you should not have a driver’s license and B) if you don’t have a HDL, they can impound your car.
People proceeded to freak out and started paying the officers not to impound their cars; though they unfortunately were not paying fines, they were paying bribes, terrified that if they didn’t, their cars would be impounded and when they finally got them back, they would have no tires, batteries, or steering wheels and the back seats would be gracing someone’s front porch. At about the same time, the Honduran government, proficient as they are, decided to make getting a new Honduran driver’s license on Roatán impossible. They moved the facilities to the mainland. Now, everyone getting stopped for not having a Honduran driver’s license is screwed. They have to go to the mainland for a license.
A guy from Roatán went to the mainland to be the guinea pig to attempt to get a new Honduran driver’s license. He paid for the license at the bank, did the medical and psych test (though really, it’s not a test, just a fee you have to pay and that’s all), and went to the police station to take his test. He was told it’s only given on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. It was a Thursday, but apparently you have to show up at 5AM (Yes, five-freaking-AM).
This means, for a person from Roatán to get a HDL, you will have to either fly or ferry over, then hire a driver, rent a hotel room, pay the fees for the license, pay for a few meals, get up at 4AM, and have a cab take you to the police station so you can stand in line. Oh yes – and you will need to hire an interpreter for the test, as it is only given in Spanish. Fun fact: they only do 60 tests per day. So that means that even if you do all of the above, if you show up at 5AM and happen to be number 62 in line, you are screwed. You will have to stay another night and play the game all OVER AGAIN. This could easily go on for weeks. Do you know how long it takes them to process one license? A long freaking time.
Let me tell you, panic set in on this little rock. It was bad enough that they were setting up road blocks, but now getting a license seemed as improbable as seeing the Wizard in Oz. Facebook turned into a where is the roadblock today?! scenario.
After enough people freaked out on Facebook, one of the women from the Tourism Bureau met with the Governor and basically said, This is ridiculous, you can’t expect anyone to do this for a meaningless driver’s license. He said they would bring people over to Roatán and take care of those in need of licenses. We were all instructed to email the Tourism Bureau with our residency card and our valid driver’s license from home and they would see what they could do.
Almost two months later, we are still unable to get a HDL on the island and the police are still playing the bribe game. I actually typed something up in Spanish that says: “I know I need a Honduran Driver’s License and I will get one as soon as they make them available here on the island. If you want to fine me, go ahead, write me a ticket and I’ll gladly pay but DO NOT tell me you are going to impound my car because Chief Martinez said that is not legal.” I carry this with me, ready to show it to any cop who stops me.
There are only a few reasons they can legally impound your car: if you are drunk, if you have no proof the car is yours, or if you are transporting a corpse without authorization issued by the proper authority. These could result in the arrest of the driver and the seizure of the vehicle. So dammit people, just don’t carry a corpse in your car. I mean, really, if you are carrying a corpse, you have more issues than not having a Honduran driver’s license.
So now we all sit and wait. It has yet to be seen if we’ll ever truly get our Honduran driver’s licenses, making the island roads as terrifying as ever.
Want to stay connected to the Land of Coconuts?
We'll send you island mail, fresh from the tropics each week.