Driving in Puerto Rico is just like in the United States with a few differences and challenges due to culture and amount of traffic. The truth is that traffic laws are generally the same, almost identical actually. Also, road signs are the same color and shape as they are in the United States, it’s just that as opposed to “STOP”, it will say “PARE”. =)
However, driving in Puerto Rico is not as organized or “clean” as it is in the United States. A former supervisor of mine called it “organized chaos”, and this is due to the fact that people don’t seem to take traffic laws very seriously, so there are a lot of people speeding, running red lights, turning left on red, and cutting people off among other things. However, it seems to actually work very well, everybody expects this to happen and everyone drives pretty much the same way, so there are no misunderstandings.
A few things you need to consider about driving Puerto Rico is that you have to be very aware of where you are and your surroundings. You need to try and guess the other driver’s moves before you make your own, also, the right-of-way rule is not as heavily understood here, so a lot of people rely on the kindness of other drivers to let you through, such as turning left on a green light, or letting you go if you are at a four-way stop (most people don’t even stop on stop signs).
One thing that a lot of tourists notice right away is that people here use their horn all the time as if to tell you to hurry up or just to give you a heads up “hey I am here”. Sometimes 1 second pass after the light turns green and you’re already been honked at by 5 or 10 cars telling you to “hurry up, light is green!” Yes, very aggressive driving here in Puerto Rico. Lots of people have told me: “people here are wonderful! I love the people here! That’s unless they are driving!”. I guess driving in Puerto Rico, whether it is due to the amount of traffic or whatever the reason is, it makes everyone cranky LOL.
So needless to say that driving Puerto Rico is one of the main complaints that a lot of people have once they get here. It doesn’t help that some, if not most of the roads are not properly labeled, some don’t even have the white lines to separate the lanes. Also, the road signs are in Spanish (most of them) so a lot of people have a lot of trouble trying to figure out where they are and what do they mean. A friend of mine calls this place “Wonderland”simply because you’re always wondering where you are and you don’t really know the road that you are in and you have to keep asking for directions. Most people here use landmarks as opposed to road names or signs; it is not at the intersection on “this road and this road” people would say “it is right next to this store” or “right in front of this fast food restaurant” or “right next to the big tree”, it is just easier that way because some (most) roads are just not marked.
Another thing that a lot of people don’t expect is the amount of traffic. Remember there are 3.8 million people in Puerto Rico, so a lot of people drive to work and pick up their kids at school, so right at rush hour there is simply a lot of cars out there and it seems that it can take you forever to get to one place that is only 5 miles away. Some people actually will walk to work because it’s faster than driving, that’s if you can though because not all roads have sidewalks either. I live 7 miles from work and it takes me at least 20 minutes to get to work, that is if there is no traffic, when there is traffic, it has taken me over an hour to get to work or to get home from work.
Having said all this, the truth is that driving here is actually not that bad. I just want you to be aware that driving in Puerto Rico may be a little bit different than driving in the states so that you don’t get too much of a shock. However, I may be a little bit biased, I live in the metro area where traffic is the worst in the island and the road conditions are also the worst of them all. Potholes speed bumps, unlabeled roads, and cranky drivers are the norm in the metro area. Once you get out of the metro area it is much smoother, especially in the freeway.
So now that you know this, you know what to expect about Puerto Rico driving, so get out there and start exploring this island! =)