I woke up the other morning, fed my dogs their morning watermelon, ate breakfast, and checked Facebook (as usual) to see what was going on. The first thing I saw was a post from a well-known islander stating that the “new” transito laws were taking effect that day.
What “new” transito laws? When were they going to tell us about these laws? It seems the whole island only found out the morning the laws went into effect.
This was our wake up call that morning:
“Please remember that as of today, there is a new TRANSIT Police Law in place in Honduras. Don’t pass red lights (mainland – there’s no traffic lights on Roatan), do not use your cell phone when driving, respect all transit signals. EVERYONE in the vehicle must have their SEAT BELTS on (no mention of the 23 guys in the back of a truck). Make sure you carry your first aid kit, fire extinguisher, and a cone (in case of emergency) and drive carefully for the security of others. The minimum fine is L. 600 +. If there is a violation, the transit police can detain the driver. Make sure your vehicle registration is up to date along with your drivers license. Not having your documents in order can result in the transit police taking your vehicle. Please inform your family, friends, and acquaintances that are visiting the island, and do not be surprised if you are stopped by the transit police today, tomorrow, or in the days ahead.”
As the island awoke, panic set in from one end to the other. Even people off island who keep up with the island news were wondering, what the hell is this? Most of the things were no brainers – don’t talk and drive, seat belts always (only gringos use them, islanders do not use them, no car seats for babies either, they usually stand on the mother’s lap, holding onto the dashboard) – but a fire extinguisher, first aid kit, and a cone? Really? Many people were worried that a fire extinguisher in a car all day long in this heat might explode. We were reassured that all DOT approved fire extinguishers would not explode. Hello. We live in Honduras; DOT stuff is unheard of here.
This story spread like wildfire, and panic overtook this little island. Within hours, there were no fire extinguishers or cones to be found on the island and the pharmacies and supermarkets had a run on first aid stuff. Everyone was preparing to be stopped. Me? I just sat here and watched it all unfold on Facebook. It was a shit show, for sure.
Later that morning, a friend forwarded me the 24 page Ley de Seca and the first thing I noticed was that it was dated Tuesday, Jan 3, 2006. Seriously, WTH? A few hours after pandemonium overtook the island, someone else posted that it was not for the general population, and that it was directed at taxis and tourist vans. Many of the people that ran out to be prepared for the great island inquisition were pissed. They just spent 60-75 bucks on something they weren’t required to have to begin with.
The extenuating factor is there are no driving rules on my island. N O N E. It’s the wild freaking west. Obviously, there are no Drivers Ed classes or any private companies that teach you how to be a courteous safe driver. The trickle down effect is staggering. Never in my life have I seen people drive like they do here. It is usually the cabs and the tourist/ transit vans and hotel buses that are the most guilty of neglectful driving. The rules I’ve been told are: No smoking while driving; no drinking, even water; no eating; no cell phone use; and motorcyclists must wear a helmet (only the driver, not the 11 month old baby straddling the gas tank in front). However, the helmet does not need to be worn down over the head with the strap fastened; it is more of a fashion statement, worn at forehead level.
Through observation, one would assume the rules actually are: You MUST pass on blind corners going up a hill. You MUST stop in the middle of the road to pick up or discharge passengers. You MUST pass every car on the damn road, especially if you are turning off the highway, without signaling once you pass all of the cars. You MUST throw all of your trash out the windows. You MUST almost cause 3 head-on collisions per day. You MUST pass on the right whenever possible. You MUST never slow for a stop sign.
There you have it. Roatan Driving Rules 101.
Severely lacking here, to say the least. They do have some sort of rules, the ones written in 2006 but there is no one to enforce them. The police are seen driving motorcycles without helmets on, carrying a rifle, talking on a cell phone, or in trucks with 7 armed uniformed cops in the back of the truck. I assume in the event of a collision that the officers in the back will all be ejected safely and land on soft ground without harm.
Eventually, the island settled down and returned to it’s somewhat normal state of confusion. Some of the island gringos are much better equipped safety-wise while driving now, while others like me will just carry on, life as usual.