Vroom! Vroom! Posted on December 2nd, 2009 by

Driving in Tanzania is an experience in itself. Despite the overall laid back manner of people in Tanzania, they drive like maniacs.

When driving in Tanzania, there are a lot of things to pay attention to. The most obvious is that to remember to stay on the left side of the road. Thanks to a brief stint of British colonialism, Tanzania is in the minority of left-sided-driving countries

Once you’ve conquered staying in the correct lane, you have to watch out for speed bumps. Speed bumps here come in many flavors and can be found around every corner. Some of them are low and wide and can be crossed at high speeds. Others are only a few inches wide but quite tall and require a creeping pace. There are even little speed bumps to warn you of upcoming bigger speed bumps. And of course none of the speed bumps are marked in anyway so you have to be on a constant lookout for weird shadows on the asphalt.

When you’re not looking for speed bumps, you have to be aware of the daladalas. The public transportation of Tanzania is the daladala. These are Scooby-doo vans with windows and are invariably crammed with passengers. They often have strange slogans like ‘Documentary’, ‘The Obama’ with a likeness of the president, or ‘Punch!’ writen in big letters on th back of the vehicle.  They often stop to unload and pickup passengers and will pull out in front of oncoming traffic whenever they feel like it.

Luckily, there are a series of signals to indicate driver intention, though they can be a bit complex. There are light signals to say, “You can pass now” or “If you pass, we’ll both crash.” Tanzanian drivers also use the car horn frequently, though I’m not always sure why. There is is an additional cohort of signals that I have not been able to decipher so far.

Also, you have to mind the pedestrians and bicyclists. Unlike in the States, it is common for people to walk along the road. And though they won’t pull out in front of you like a daladala might, they are yet another thing to be conscious of. Bikers are more dangerous. They often have long bundles of lumber tied on the back or a big pile of grass strapped behind the seat. They also have a tendency to weave in and out of traffic making them an unpredictable variable.

It doesn’t help that traffic rules are suggestions. Speed limits are flexible. A sign may say 50km/hr but 100km/hr is close enough. And when there is no one else on the road, why not just drive down the middle? A few years ago, a stoplight was put up in Arusha. The result was not better driving, but more accidents as no one paid attention to the newly installed stoplight.

Though traffic rules hold little sway, police officers are prevalent and often pull drivers over for periodic vehicle checks. Vehicles are required to have multiple stickers and also be equipped with safety flags, and a mini fire extinguisher in case of emergency.

We have been slowly adjusting to Tanzanian driving and have not gotten into an accident (yet).


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