How to survive driving in the Philippines

Updated Apr 27, 2017 | Same topic: Let's Drive Smart!

Any seasoned motorist will tell you that driving in the Philippines is not for the faint of heart.
Even world-renowned professional stunt driver Russ Swift, usually known for his pulse-pounding precision driving techniques, wouldn’t even dare take the wheel on Manila roads.

>>> View more: How to safely drive in big cities

The good news is while it’s impossible to control every single hazard out there, there are steps you can take to somehow mitigate the risks of driving on Philippine roads. These are nothing really new, but supposing that a typical Pinoy motorist has a short memory, a refresher every once in a while couldn’t hurt.   
1. Make sure your car is road-worthy

Having your equipment in good working order is a necessity. Check the car regularly as part of your pre-drive routine, ideally at the start of the day:
  • Are the lights working?
  • Is the air-conditioning cooling properly?
  • Do the brakes work?
  • Are the tires properly inflated?
  • Is the engine or suspension making funny or unusual sounds?

You wouldn’t want the car to fail at a critical moment during your drive, like when you attempt to overtake another vehicle, or simply when you’re stuck in traffic.

According to architect Felino Palafox Jr., Metro Manila residents spend 1,000 hours stuck in traffic every year. This number is only 300 hours for residents of other countries with better urban planning. Considering that, the last thing you want your car to be is a prison.

>>> View more: 10 tips owners should keep in mind before putting cars into storage
Car problems

Do the brakes work? Are the tires properly inflated?

2. Use your turn signals

It is highly necessary to telegraph your moves to your fellow motorists in advance so they can react accordingly and safely.
  • Ideally, you should switch on your turn signal as early as 50 meters before (not during) the actual turn.
  • This gives the car behind you enough time to maneuver around you and go straight, assuming that it’s not headed in the same direction as you are.
  • Once you’ve made the turn, make sure that your turn signal is turned off. Having a permanently blinking signal light is confusing to other drivers.
  • Oh, and as a corollary, leave your signal lights in their original amber color, in compliance with international vehicle standards. Some drivers tend to change the color of their signal lights as a stylistic touch, but it doesn’t really serve any purpose.
Dog in a car

Use your turn signals
3. Be observant

Pay close attention to other vehicles and their movements.

A slow-moving car that swerves constantly from side to side might mean the driver is drunk or drowsy. Be especially wary of parked cars or any similar obstruction on the curb when going through a narrow street. You’ll never know when a pedestrian (especially a child) will dart out from behind and straight into your path.

Make it a habit to sweep your eyes side to side along your field of view. Note every detail on the road to avoid tunnel vision that can potentially delay your reflexes if something untoward happens.

Use your side mirrors to check if there are incoming pedestrians or vehicles from your rear before opening your doors. And of course, always mind all traffic signs and markings.

If you need to go to an unfamiliar place, do a little advance research either by asking people who’ve been there or consulting a map.   
Be observant

Be especially wary of parked cars or any similar obstruction on the curb when going through a narrow street​

4. Keep your cool

Cool your heels when you encounter an unexpected traffic jam, because if it’s of any consolation, others are stuck around you as well.

If another car cuts you off on the road, it’s natural to be annoyed, but take a deep breath, count to ten and just let it go.

A lot of misunderstandings stem from the premise that other road users are as mindful as you are. If you anticipate that they can and will make mistakes, then you allow yourself some leeway to act accordingly in case something does go wrong.

Besides, you’ll never know when you’ll come across some hothead who might be armed, potentially endangering you and those travelling along with you.
Dog in a car

Keep cool when driving

5. Invest in a dashcam

A dashboard camera or dashcam is an invaluable accessory in today’s motoring. It can record situations with total recall and perfect neutrality (much like Robocop).

Let’s face it, nobody wants to be hassled by being involved in a traffic accident, and it’s not always easy getting eyewitnesses to speak on your behalf. With a dashcam, all you need to do is play back the footage showing the conditions that caused the accident in the first place.

Assuming you were in the right, it will definitely help your case from a legal point of view. High definition clips speak a thousand words, to borrow a timeless adage. And since everything is captured on video, you will tend to be on your best behavior behind the wheel.

There are a lot of choices in terms of dashcams in the market, from the dirt cheap to the very expensive. Simply get one that works for your budget.

>>> View more: Top 6 must-have apps for Filipino drivers
Dashcam trio

A dashboard camera or dashcam is an invaluable accessory in today’s motoring

Driving in the Philippines is an interesting exercise at the very least, but it need not be the hellish torture some people make it out to be. Whether you’re driving the latest car model or just chugging along in a family heirloom, just remember to stay safe out there as much as possible.

Life’s too short to be stressed out on the road, because eventually, we’ll all get to where we’re going. 

For more useful tips and advice on driving in the Philippines, click here.
Joseph Paolo Estabillo

Joseph Paolo Estabillo


Joseph holds a degree in Journalism from the University of the Philippines Diliman and has been writing professionally since 1999. He has written episodes for CNN Philippines' motoring show Drive, and has worked on corporate projects for MG Philippines and Pilipinas Shell. Aside from being’s Content Lead, he also writes content for numerous car dealerships in the U.S., spanning multiple brands such as Alfa Romeo, Chrysler, Dodge, Jeep, and Maserati, among others.


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