Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Madagascar, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. In Madagascar, you drive on the right side of the road, generally yielding the right of way to vehicles coming in from the left. Some major intersections and traffic circles have police directing traffic. If a policeman has his back to you at an intersection, you are required to stop. Laws make seatbelt use mandatory and prohibit cell phone use while driving, even with a hands-free attachment. Child safety seats are not mandatory, but motorcycle helmets are required in Madagascar. If you are caught driving under the influence of alcohol, your car will be impounded for a few days, and you will have to pay a fine. If you are involved in an accident involving injuries and/or deaths, there is a mandatory court case. The losing party of the court case must then pay all costs.
Except for Antananarivo’s main streets and a few well-maintained routes to outlying cities, many roads are in various states of disrepair. Some may be impassable during the November-March rainy season. Night travel by private or public transportation outside Antananarivo is strongly discouraged, due to poor lighting and road conditions. Roads tend to be narrow and winding with many one-lane bridges and blind curves, and most roads outside of main routes and city centers are cobblestone, gravel, or packed dirt. Most vehicles tend to drive in the center of the road unless another vehicle is present. It is common to find livestock or human-drawn carts in the middle of the road, even at night. Local practice is to blow the horn before going around a curve, to let others know of one's presence. There are few pedestrian crosswalks and no working traffic signals.
Travel within Antananarivo can be difficult with poor road signage, streets congested with pedestrians, bicycles, animal carts, vehicular traffic, and an abundance of one-way streets. Taxis are plentiful and are generally reasonably priced. Bargain for the fare prior to getting into a vehicle. Most accidents are pedestrian-related, due to narrow roads and lack of sidewalks on many streets. When traveling between cities, travelers must have clear directions as there are rarely signs indicating where one must turn to reach a destination. Conditions of rural roads can degrade significantly and with little notice during the rainy season.
Rental cars generally come with a driver who is responsible for maintaining the vehicle and sometimes acts as a tour guide. Public transportation is unreliable and vehicles are poorly maintained. Rail services are extremely limited and unreliable.
The Ministry of Public Works, telephone (20) 22-318-02, is Madagascar's authority responsible for road safety. During an emergency, visitors to Antananarivo can contact local police by dialing 117, 22-227-35, or 22-357-09/10. U.S. citizens can also call the U.S. Embassy at (261) 20-23-480-00 if assistance is needed in communicating with law enforcement officials.
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