Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Djibouti, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States. The information below concerning Djibouti is provided for general reference only, and may not be accurate in a particular location or circumstance.
The only means of public inter-city travel is by bus. Buses are poorly maintained and their operators often drive erratically with little regard for passenger safety. Taxis should be avoided at all costs.
Driving on Djiboutian roads can be hazardous. Since most roads do not have shoulders or sidewalks, pedestrians and livestock use the roadways both day and night. Driving at night is extremely dangerous and strongly discouraged on all roads outside Djibouti City. While some main roads in Djibouti are well maintained, roads are often narrow, poorly lit, or rutted. Many secondary roads are in poor repair. Drivers and pedestrians should exercise extreme caution. Minibuses and cars often break down; when breakdowns occur, local drivers usually place branches or rocks behind the vehicle to indicate trouble, but these warning signals are barely visible and hazardous in and of themselves. Excessive speed, unpredictable local driving habits, pedestrians, and livestock in the roadway, and the lack of basic safety equipment on many vehicles are daily hazards. Speed limits are posted occasionally but are not enforced. The leafy narcotic – khat, is widely used, particularly in the afternoons, creating other traffic hazards.
The Djiboutian Gendarmerie and the National Police Force share responsibility for road safety in Djibouti. In March 2012, a “Road Police” was created, though its role has yet to be clearly defined. Djiboutian authorities recently erected traffic lights to help regulate the flow of traffic. Be very cautious approaching these lights, as many other drivers continue to disregard them. It is illegal to turn right on a red light. Travelers should be aware that police use large obstacles as roadblocks on some of the major roads, and these may be difficult to see at night.
There are two main international highways to the capital city, via Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, and Obock, Djibouti, and both demand that drivers remain vigilant. The route toward Dire Dawa is in very poor condition. Both have a high volume of Ethiopian trucks transporting large cargo. Railroad crossings are not clearly marked. Drivers who do not have a four-wheel drive vehicle will encounter problems driving on rural roads. While the quality of roads is improving, drivers should make sure their vehicle is in good mechanical condition before leaving major population centers. Once a driver has left Djibouti city there are limited services to aid broken-down vehicles. The Embassy recommends that U.S. Citizens travel in two-vehicle caravans outside the city. In addition, gasoline is not readily available outside of Djibouti City so drivers utilizing a gasoline-powered vehicle should plan accordingly. Diesel fuel is available in other areas of Djibouti.
There are no emergency services in Djibouti. It will be difficult to coordinate medical assistance in the event of an accident. It is always advisable to carry a cell phone or satellite phone when undertaking a trip outside of the capital; however, many parts of the country do not have cell phone coverage.
While Djibouti has been declared a “mine-safe” country, this indicates that landmines have been identified and marked, not that they have been removed. Landmines are known to be present in northern Tadjourah and Obock districts. In addition, there may be mines in the Ali Sabieh area of the south. In March 2012, a 12-year-old boy was seriously injured by a land mine near Lac Assal and Ghoubet, two popular tourist destinations. The incident occurred in the area known as Dabaleh Gahar, east of where National Route 10 splits off from National Route 9. This location is approximately 20 km southeast of where most people visit Lac Assal, about one kilometer from the paved road. This area was home to a Djiboutian military encampment during the civil war (1991-1994) and the mine likely remained in place after that conflict. Travelers should stay on paved roads and should check with local authorities before using unpaved roads.
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