Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
While in Jamaica, you may encounter road conditions that differ significantly from those in the United States.
Drivers and pedestrians should remember that, unlike the United States, driving in Jamaica is on the left-hand side of the road. Breakdown assistance is limited in urban areas and virtually unavailable in rural areas. Nighttime driving is especially dangerous and should be avoided whenever possible, especially outside of the cities of Kingston, Ocho Rios, Montego Bay, and Negril. Heavy rains, which can occur at any time of the year, frequently leave roads impassable and result in life-threatening flash floods. Drivers should monitor media reports for information on road conditions and closures. Gullies in particular should be avoided as they are prone to flash floods capable of sweeping away vehicles.
As noted above in the section on Crime, public buses are often overcrowded and are frequently a venue of crime. Travelers who use taxicabs should take only licensed taxicabs having red-and-white PP license plates or taxis recommended by their hotels and should not accept rides from strangers.
Most roads are paved, but suffer from ill repair, inadequate signage, large pot holes, and poor traffic control markings. Roads are often subject to poorly marked construction zones, pedestrians, bicyclists, and, occasionally, livestock. The lack of pedestrian crosswalks requires special vigilance for all pedestrians. Driving habits range from aggressive speeding and disregard for others to inexperience and over-polite behaviors creating uncertainty and hazards to pedestrians. Several times a year, U.S. citizen tourists in Jamaica are killed while attempting to cross busy stretches of road. In many cases, people are hit by an overtaking car after another vehicle stops and waves them across. Roads in rural areas (including near major tourist resorts in Montego Bay and Negril) are often traveled at very high speeds and pedestrians should take special care when attempting to cross.
Drivers should maintain special care when entering traffic circles (“roundabouts”), which are often poorly marked and require traffic to move in a clockwise direction. Motorists entering a roundabout must yield to those already in it. Labeling of roundabout exit points is exceptionally confusing, often making it difficult to determine which exit to take to continue toward the desired destination. Failure to turn into the correct flow of traffic can result in a head-on collision.
The A1, A2, and A3 highways are the primary links between the most important cities and tourist destinations on the island. These roads are not comparable to American highways, and road conditions are hazardous due to poor repair, inadequate signage, and poor traffic control markings. The B highways and rural roads are often very narrow and frequented by large trucks, buses, pedestrians, bicyclists, and open range livestock. Highways are traveled at high speeds, but are not limited-access.
Drivers and passengers in the front seat are required to wear seat belts, and motorcycle riders are required to wear helmets. Extreme caution should be used in operating motor driven cycles. Several serious and even fatal accidents take place each year involving U.S. tourists riding in taxis without seat belts. All passengers are strongly encouraged to use vehicles equipped with seat belts.
Official emergency response to a road accident can be slow, given traffic, road conditions, distance from metropolitan areas, and a limited number of responders. In practice, many victims of vehicular accidents are assisted by fellow motorists.
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