Driving in Lima and Peru will be a very “interesting” experience if you are used to driving in North America or Europe.
If you are like me, you have been taught to practice defensive driving, but this is already your first big mistake when approaching the traffic for example in Lima. Maintain a secure distance to the vehicle in front of you? No, this would be your second mistake as all the other drivers will see this as a sign of weakness and without any politeness or etiquette abuse this space to radically squeeze in and leave you more and more back in traffic.
It is pretty much medieval rules where the most aggressive, strongest (biggest car or even the oldest as you wouldn’t mind the additional bump or two in your fender) and fastest to abuse the “weakness” of other drivers moves forward with a certain sign of satisfaction after gaining a car length...
You think I’m exaggerating? May be a little, but only a little as you will discover yourself very quickly once confronted with the permanently honking horns, the angry gestures and profanities that seem to combine to some sort of language – A very interesting kind of social interaction between humans!
Especially in the always hectic and totally overcrowded streets of Lima driving habits seem to be a Peruvian combination of "demolition derby" and a "game of chicken". If you can avoid it, think twice about driving in Lima and rather consider using a taxi, so you can enjoy the above mentioned without suffering personally.
Traffic Rules for Driving in Lima
If you are brave and still would like to give it a try consider the following basic traffic rules that were considered as a humorous approach, but unfortunately reflect reality:
Ignore all horns unless you are looking for a taxi ride.
To make a right turn, NEVER ever get in the right lane. Rather, get around all the micros and honk your horn at them, so they know you are turning right in front of them.
To make a left turn, don't get in a congested left lane unless you enjoy waiting through 2 or 3 traffic signals. Rather, get around all left-turners and make another row on their right side.
NEVER use turn signals, because the one behind you will take advantage of knowing what you are about to do.
If can't do without turn signals, just keep your hazard lights on all the time and the clicking sound might comfort you, while confusing at the same time everybody else.
Pedestrians can be a real problem. General rule is to honk at pedestrians so they get out of the way. If they don't respond, they may be drunk, and unfortunately you must slow down and after honking a couple of times proceed with caution.
Forget the parallel parking you may have learned before. Here we learn to drive straight into parking spaces in a forward gear, as traffic congestion makes backing up on city streets impossible. Not to mention that a parallel parker, while trying to back-up, will usually lose the space to a skilled "front-in" parker.
NEVER stop for a yellow (amber) light, at least you would like to get rear-ended. In Peru, a yellow light generally means "hurry up before you are forced to stop". Exception: Taxis and micros consider yellow to be a welcoming possibility to stop right at the intersection and have a prime spot to get a fare.
You may proceed with caution in the first couple of seconds of a red light, but be sure to first look for possible police presence nearby or crossing traffic that already started moving while their side was still yellow.
NEVER go as soon as a red light turns green or you will have an unhappy encounter with another driver practicing the previous rules!
Don't forget: Stopping at red lights is optional on Sundays, holidays and late at night.
When you see someone that is thinking about crossing the street some blocks ahead, be sure to honk and warn them that you are coming.
If you are at a red light and the other light turns yellow, be sure to honk your horn to let the one in front of you know that your light is about to be green.
If you are making a left turn and someone is already waiting, just pull to their left and race them when they go.
The word "PARA" (Spanish for STOP) on any traffic signs just means "HONK" – no further action needed.
Whenever you are in doubt, honk your horn.
If you see a pedestrian crossing the street, hit the gas and turn into their lane.
When making right turns in busy pedestrian intersections just honk and go full speed, the pedestrians in Peru know that even if they have a green light they must wait (Very handy as this also applies on pedestrian crossings).
Once again, if in doubt just honk your horn.
The Size Principle: If you have the bigger car you have the right of way.
The Age Principle: If you have the older car you have the right of way.
The combined Size/Age Principle: If you have an older and bigger car you have the right of way and get away without even honking your horn (Only exception!).
If you can't remember all the rules, no need to worry – just honk your horn...
Don't Drive in Lima!
TV Episode from the Don't Drive Here Series in 2013