The minute you land on St Maarten, the driving culture on the Island becomes extremely apparent. The driving style over the years has evolved like everything else and taken second to none in any other part of he world.
While not as intimidating as places such as New York and London, the motorist on this petit rock certainly seem to observe distinct road rules and possess special characteristics that positions them in a class of their own.
On St Maarten we drive on the right hand side of the road with a left hand steering gear similar to that of the U.S.A. but following the lead of the Netherlands. Many motorists from the UK and others using the opposite side may find this a bit of a test at the beginning. However, a vigilant attitude is all that's necessary in order to overcome any fear associated with this sudden change.
The population growth and of course the increase of cars on the Island have greatly attributed to the congestion in traffic jams and thus by extension, the number of accidents on a daily basis.
Occasionally there is road work that adds to the frustration of getting from one place to the other and it is only with experience and great knowledge of the Island, that will help in choosing alternative routes to reach your destination on time.
At the turn of the century it was possible to maneuver around the Island within a reasonable time frame. Certain areas like St Peters remain quite a challenge in the morning from Monday to Friday. The St Peters Valley is a cul-de-sac region. This together with the fact that the majority of High Schools and a great number of Primary schools are located in there, are two factors that fuel the long lines and bottle necks.
I myself have chosen to drive around the entire Island to get to particular spots as it is easier to do so during certain times of the day.
Like any other discipline, one will need to practice the local driving language to eventually be classed as a St Maarten driver. Figuratively speaking, I am still learning new slangs every time I step into my car and as new influences find their way onto the roads of this Island.
Here are three things that you NEED to know that DON'T fall within the training for drivers' licenses at the license department.
Local road rule # one two and three.
The vehicle coming towards you flashes its lights - You are cleared to go
The vehicle behind honks its horn for more than 1 second - That person is NOT saying hello
If you make eye contact with the person in the vehicle at the end of a T crossing - You are probably saying to them to come out. Be careful.
If you see a well polished car driving at five miles per hour and holding the traffic, stay where you are. You don't want to upset that person behind the drivers seat. He/She doesn't want their car wet. :-)
During rush hour you'll need to ask the best times to get to the airport for a particular flight due to the bridge openings and/or road works. The observance of road rules seem to go out the window during this time.
In general Motorists are very easy but become desperate when using the roads during rush hours for obvious reasons. A gesture to ease traffic by allowing someone to pass is a good Idea at all times. Many local drivers make this their everyday practice.
Since there is so much traffic on the roads when I use them I tend to drive defensively. This has proven to be a good strategy. In many cases I have avoided miserable accidents just by thinking for me and the other guy.
The following should keep you safe and out of trouble.
Wear your seat belt at all times
Keep your kids safe by using child safety belts and observing the safety guidelines for them such as. Children under 12 should be seated in the rear of the vehicle. Children under 4 should be using child safety belts.