Traffic Safety and Road Conditions
Belize’s road conditions differ significantly from those in the United States.
Valid U.S. or international driver’s permits are accepted in Belize only for a period of three months after initial entry.
Public buses and private vehicles are the main mode of transportation in Belize; no railways currently operate in the country. Like in the United States, drivers operate vehicles on the right side of the road and road signs are in English with distances indicated in miles. But driving norms do not always follow U.S. practice, and due caution must be exercised at all times. Poor road and/or vehicle maintenance cause many fatal accidents on Belize’s roads. Speed limits are a maximum of 55 miles per hour on highways and 25 miles per hour on most other roads, but they are seldom observed or even posted. Drivers should particularly watch for speed bumps and rumble strips as they pass through villages on the major highways. These usually denote pedestrian crossings and are not always marked by clear signage or reflective yellow paint. Roadside assistance can be difficult to summon as there are very few public telephones along the road and emergency telephone numbers do not always function properly. While cell phone service is fairly reliable, reception in remote areas is spotty or non-existent. The Belize Department of Transportation is responsible for road safety.
Roads in Belize vary from two-lane paved roads to dirt or gravel tracks. The few paved roads are high-crowned, meaning that the roads are built to a slight point in the middle and slope down on the sides. There are usually no shoulders on the sides of the roads such that when vehicles get too close to the edge, the vehicle may lose traction on the loosely packed gravel, which contributes to cars overturning. There are few markings or reflectors; even in urban areas, most streets lack lane markings, leading many motorists to create as many lanes as possible in any given stretch of street or road. Bridges on the major highways are often only a single lane. The Manatee Road (Coastal Road), leading from the Western Highway east of Belmopan to Dangriga, is mostly unpaved, easily flooded after storms, and without services. The Southern Highway from Dangriga to Punta Gorda is now completely paved and in good condition. Service stations are available along the major roads, although there are some significant gaps in the rural areas.
Belize’s official hurricane season lasts from May to November and creates hazardous road conditions. Motorists should not attempt to cross any low bridge with water flowing over the surface of the bridge as both the strength and depth of the current may be stronger than is apparent. Certain stretches of the George Price Highway that connects Belize City to Belmopan and continues west to the Guatemalan border have been the site of several fatal accidents.
Many vehicles on the road do not have functioning safety equipment such as turn signals, flashers, or brake lights. Seatbelts for drivers and front-seat passengers are mandatory, but children’s car seats are not required and are not widely available for purchase. Maintaining a safe driving distance will help avoid accidents.
Driving while intoxicated is punishable by a fine; however, if an alcohol-related road accident results in a fatality, the driver may face manslaughter charges. U.S. citizens can and have been imprisoned in Belize as a result of road accidents, even where alcohol is not a factor.
Unusual local traffic customs include: pulling to the right before making a left turn; passing on the right of someone who is signaling a right-hand turn; stopping in the middle of the road to talk to someone while blocking traffic; carrying passengers, including small children, in the open beds of trucks; and tailgating at high speeds.
Bicycles are numerous and constitute a traffic hazard at all times. Bicyclists often ride against traffic and do not obey even basic traffic laws such as stopping at red lights or stop signs. Although commonly encountered after nightfall, few bicyclists use lights or wear reflective clothing. It is common to see bicyclists carrying heavy loads or passengers, including small children, balanced in their laps or across the handlebars.
During daylight hours, particularly during weekends, highway drivers may encounter cross-country racing bicyclists, engaged in either training or in organized competitions. These may be accompanied by slow-moving vehicles such as pickup trucks or even motorcycles. Exercise caution when passing such persons as their attention may be on each other rather than passing motorists.
The driver of a vehicle that strikes a bicyclist or pedestrian is almost always considered to be at fault, regardless of circumstances. U.S. citizens who have struck bicyclists in Belize have faced significant financial penalties or even prison sentences.
Driving at night is not recommended even in populated areas. Major driving hazards include poor signage and road markings, a tendency by drivers to not dim their lights when approaching other vehicles, drunk driving, and poor or unfamiliar road conditions. Pedestrians and motorcyclists without reflective clothing and bicyclists without lights or reflectors also constitute very serious after-dark hazards exacerbated by the lack of street lighting at night. Local wildlife, dogs, and livestock in the road are also hazards even outside of rural areas. For safety reasons, travelers should not stop to offer assistance to others whose vehicles appear to have broken down as it may be a robbery scheme.
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