That was two months ago. Since then I have had ample opportunity to observe traffic patterns and driving styles, and have come to understand a few things about driving here. I came to realize that drivers here are quite good. Accidents rarely happen, considerably less often than back in Canada. Drivers are quite aware of everything that is going on around them. There simply are a different set of rules that need to be followed here. I think I have figured out most of those rules now.
When we got our van a few weeks ago I felt I was ready to try my luck at driving. I had ridden in taxis and jeepneys a lot. I had been a passenger in vehicles driven by people who have been here a long time. I saw what to do and what not to do. So after several weeks of experience I present to you the Rules of Driving in Davao (or at least what I have gathered so far!):
If there is a space available you are free to place your vehicle there.
The vehicle that gets into a space first has the right of way (see Rule 8 below for exceptions).
If the space which you wish to occupy is currently occupied you may ease your way into that space to encourage the other vehicle to depart from said space.
If the space is open in a lane normally used by oncoming traffic you may use that space.
If the space is in between two vehicles that are utilizing the lane markings painted on the road you may disregard the lane markings and occupy that space between the other vehicles.
If the space is on the sidewalk you may occupy it, providing you give warning to the pedestrians which may be occupying that space.
You shall give warning to other vehicles of your intent to occupy a given space by honking of your horn.
Size matters. The bigger the vehicle the more it has right-of-way. The pecking order goes something like this: Buses - large trucks - large jeepneys - large SUV's - smaller trucks - smaller jeepneys - taxis - cars - tricycabs - motorcycles - bikes - pedestrians.
Pedestrians have no rights, except that you must avoid hitting one at all costs.
Pedestrians may appear from anywhere and be in any given space at any given time. This often includes standing on a lane marker line in the middle of the road. Avoid them.
Crosswalks are simply pretty designs painted on the roads and do not endow any form of right-of-way. The same goes for traffic signals. Just because the "walk" light is on does not mean that a pedestrian can walk, unless they happen to occupy that space before you do. (See Rule 2)
Seatbelts are optional. Especially in the back seats where seatbelts may not even be present.
Passengers in a vehicle (including children) may occupy any seat, or where seats are not present, may occupy any space available. The occupancy limit of any vehicle is based on the internal volume of the vehicle, the size of the passengers, and the availability of suitable locations on the external surfaces of the vehicle to allow passengers to sit, stand, or cling desperately to the sides.
All above rules are subject to multiple exceptions based on circumstance. Be aware at all times of everything that is going on around you.
What seemed like chaos a few months ago has simply become normal now. It is amazing to see how well traffic works here, especially since there are few traffic lights and fewer traffic signs. I have yet to see a stop sign, and have seen few yield or merge signs.
But it really does work. Everyone knows the rules and everyone abides by them. I would say that traffic operates more smoothly and with less problems here than back in Canada. Drivers here are much more laid back and aren't in such a hurry. If the person in front of you is going really slow, you simply pull around them when you get a chance. If someone squeezes into a space in front of you, you let them have that space. Road rage may occur here, but if it does I have yet to see it.
I would suggest that drivers in North America could learn a few lessons from drivers here (Please leave your angry comments below).
I for one have learned to love the way that people drive here (mostly), and am interested to see how I handle driving back in Canada when we come back to visit. I will be the guy ignoring the lines on the road and squeezing between the cars in the lanes.