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Driving in Argentina

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When I was a kid, my dad was fanatical about seat belt use, always insisting that my sister and I buckle up. In fact, we were repeatedly told that the car simply wouldn't move until the aforementioned seat belts were fastened. Apparently this mindset stuck with me because I've always been very conscientious about using my seat belt and asking that others riding with me use theirs too, even if they weren't accustomed to it.

Generally speaking, I'd like to say that I'm a reasonably safe and courteous driver. I will own up to having a bit of a lead foot, but overall I wouldn't classify myself as a menace to society when I'm on the road. Well, maybe if you're a groundhog, but that's a completely different story.

At the present moment, I'm relegated to the passenger seat because I don't know how to drive stick (it's very rare to find a car with automatic transmission in Argentina). I'm not exactly complaining; being chauffeured around town isn't so bad. I'm sure I'll get around to learning one of these days, but honestly, I'm not entirely convinced I want to drive here. Why? The answer is simple: the Argentines drive like lunatics.

Lane markers– merely a suggestion. Speed limit – what's that? Traffic lights – generally obeyed. Stop signs – almost non-existent, which results in a free-for-all at four-way intersections. Seat belts – apparently they're meant for decoration because hardly anyone uses them. Yielding to pedestrians – maybe if it's an old lady with a cane, but even then, highly unlikely. Speed bumps – everywhere (very annoying!). Road rage – amazingly, not so much.

I don't think my parents truly believed my description of how people drive here until they saw it with their own two eyes. Fortunately, things are a bit calmer here in my small city of Necochea than in Buenos Aires, but not much.

Think I'm exaggerating? Here's an excerpt from the U.S. State Department's page on Argentina:

"Traffic accidents are the primary threat to life and limb in Argentina. Pedestrians and drivers should exercise caution. Drivers frequently ignore traffic laws and vehicles often travel at excessive speeds. The rate and toll of traffic accidents has been a topic of much media attention over the past year. The Institute of Road Safety and Education, a private Buenos Aires organization dedicated to transportation safety issues, reports that Argentina has the highest traffic mortality rate in South America per 100,000 inhabitants."

If you couple the devil-may-care attitude about driving with with the fact that a good number of cars on the road are poorly maintained and/or lacking advanced safety features such as airbags, it's no wonder that Argentina has such a high mortality rate from car accidents.

Still think you'd like to take a crack at driving in Argentina? If so, I suggest you read fellow blogger Taos Turner's attempt at finding some sanity while behind the wheel: 15 Rules for Stress-free Driving in Argentina.

Fortunately, my Argentine boyfriend's driving habits seem to buck the general trend, as he is a very cautious driver (in fact, I tease him for driving like an old man). I know I'm in good hands with him, but he's not the one I have to worry about – it's the rest of the crazies out there. Do you think I could somehow wear two seat belts?

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About Katie Alley