I can validate every word as absolutely TRUE. Sam Smith, a friend of Jody and Tim, wrote this article and sent it to me — and from personal experience, it hasn’t improved one bit, maybe even worsened because there are more cars on the road. Thank heavens for public transportation – the bus!
I Drive Therefore I am
A foreigner’s account of an initial driving experience on a 2000+ Km road trip in March 2008.
Having finally gotten all in order, in our “new” 2004 Toyota Hilux camioneta ( pick-up truck ) we left Saenz Pena in the Province of Chaco for the town of San Carlos de Bariloche in the Lake District of Northern Patagonia. A trip of 2125km and two days of 13 and 17 hours driving. I do not recommend this.
The best part- beautiful and varied landscapes: vast pampas, desert, hills, and mountains. The worst part- the Argentine driver. I have made a quick study (survival instinct), so will share my observations.
All roads were 2-lane, with opposing traffic a twitch away from a head–on collision. The atavistic art of passing cars conjuring the tension of critical timing, and sudden death, just like in the old days before the modern divided highway. Not being spoiled by the USA standard of highway design, the Argentine driver is more intuitive and fatalistic and seems oblivious or perhaps inured to the potential for danger here, in fact relishing the chance to test nerves, skill and horsepower against the double yellow line, and blind curve or hill just ahead. (1)
They kill about twice the rate of people in traffic accidents than we do in the USA. It’s basically everyman for himself, and an assumption that all traffic is local and consequently everyone knows where they are going. So the use of route markers, advisory signs, and other highway information is sporadic. Traffic regulations seem to be advisory only, this includes rights-of-way, stop signs and traffic lights. Highway driving at night is particularly trying , as the yellow and white “safety” paint that you expect to mark and delineate such things as signs, obstructions, lanes, and road shoulders does not relect the light of headlights, so in effect it just works in the daytime giving the promise of possibly having some effect at night.
The” Rule of Momentum”-You must assume the prevailing rule of the road is that the other driver will always do the thing that is to his advantage, possibly with total and selfish disregard to others. You must intuit another’s actions. Plan on the most unexpected, and death-defying action or maneuver, and you will seldom be wrong. Rarely are turn signals used, why bother, it is assumed you know their intention. In the flow of traffic you would do well to think of your actions as being those of a bird in a flock or a fish in a school- with some type of lateral-line sensibility that enables the whole mass to move as one- changing direction or momentum in concert. In fact, an attention lapse or change in rhythm is “unexpected” to others and can be dangerous. Drivers are not looking for signs or signals telling them what to do or expect.
The “Rule of Intersections”-The most frequent situation presented is the intersection. The US invention of the four-way stop is unheard of; rather it is typically a four-way go. Rarely will an intersection have a stop sign (if it does, it is blatantly ignored). The rule is to yield to the car to your right, but of course there are exceptions: Exception (1) If you are on a comparatively larger or more primary street, in which case you have the right-of-way, regardless. The problem with that is the introduction of the Argentine Ego: IT assumes that whichever street IT is on, is the primary street. So you cannot count on that rule. Exception (2) If you are the give-way vehicle on the left but arrive at the intersection first, then you just keep going. Exception (3) If you are a large truck, bus, or a particularly beat-up vehicle, you do what ever you want. You can see that intersections present frequent and quick judgment calls, so you can expect most drivers will adopt the much simpler all-purpose “ rule of momentum” and so consequently will race to be first there, to avoid any need to assess right-of-way.
The “Rule of Lanes”-There are no designated lanes, because the amount of traffic that can fit the width of any street at any one time is of course relative to the size and relative speed of the conveyance (bicycle, motorbike, small car, etc.); so you can have 2 lanes and then 3 lanes of traffic in the space of a block. To be safe, just figure that Argentine drivers abhor an empty space, or an interval between cars, and will be drawn to fill it, before someone else does.
Traffic lights do exist, but have their own exceptions as well: If your acceleration approaching the light has not put you there before it changes, and you are then stopped at the red light, you are, in fact, being inconvenienced and a rule has been challenged ( The Rule of Momentum ). So after an appropriate interval- you act intuitively on the anticipation of the green, starting through the intersection when the opposing green light is just about to receive a yellow warning signal.
Lest you get the impression that they are all irresponsible drivers, I would add that at night you would see many examples of the environmentally sensitive driver making his contribution to sustainability. To conserve the life of their headlight bulbs, they don’t turn them on. I have personally witnessed this commitment to environmental sustainability in rain and even snow- at night. Clearly they are able to make out the other cars by their lights, so do not see a reason for needing their own.
(1)- I have since observed over an intervening 2 yrs, that the “rule of lanes” is at work here, if the passing car encounters another car in a potential head-on, the passing driver assumes that the oncoming car will bear right – thereby creating a third lane for the passing car to complete the overtake. This can be problematical however if the oncoming vehicle is large or if the oncoming driver is not conditioned to immediately adopt the” rule of lanes” as envisioned by the passing driver.