Driving in Santo Domingo and Punta Cana
Traffic in the Dominican Republic drives on the right-hand side of the road, like in the United States of America or Continental Europe, and adopts international driving regulations with slight variations, similar to those in the US. For instance, turning right on red lights, after stopping, is permitted, but the utmost care must be taken.
The standard of driving, often aggressive and ignoring traffic signals, and the poor condition of many roads are good reasons to avoid sitting behind the steering wheel in this city, unless you are a regular visitor and used to the often chaotic conditions, particularly, during the rush hours between 7:30-9:30 a.m. and 5:00- 7:00 p.m. Nevertheless, there is heavy traffic throughout the day with further peaks around lunchtime, from noon to around 1:30 pm.
Poor or non-existent road signs, the way locals ignore them when they exist, while driving at speed, simply using the claxon to get other traffic out of their way, makes driving in Santo Domingo an adventure that the average foreigner ought to avoid. Besides, street lighting is deficient or absent, which makes driving at night even more dangerous.
Special care should be taken on intercity highways and in rural areas because of animals on the road, manholes without covers, large potholes, unmarked lanes and speed bumps, as well as high speed vehicles, often with missing headlights or taillights. Many of these hazards are not properly marked increasing the chances of an accident due to the sudden encounter with unexpected circumstances.
Things are improving, though. In 2012, a new highway opened between La Romana and Punta Cana shortening the distance between the two points, and cutting the driving time in half. It added to the existing stretch between the capital, Santo Domingo, and La Romana. It is now possible to cover the whole route between Santo Domingo and Punta Cana in around two hours.
Should an accident occur, minor or not, as a tourist, especially if you do not speak Spanish, it is often the case that the local police will back the local driver, and look upon you as a source of extra personal income. There are plenty of stories of irregular police fines and other illegal demands making tourist pay for accidents they did not cause. Drivers should not move their vehicles until the police arrive. Breach of this rule, even if it is to let other traffic through, may lead to being charged as responsible for the accident, even if it was not their fault.
It is highly recommended that if you are a tourist and unused to the Dominican Republic road conditions, that you do not drive. The alternative is to rent a car with a personal driver, which is the best option, as the prices for this service are not exceptionally high.
To complicate things even further, the hurricane season in the Dominican Republic runs from June to November, and the winds and flooding are additional hazards that should be avoided.