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The Dummies’ Guide to Driving Around Metro Manila

Guides May 7, 2015

Learning how to drive a car is only the beginning of your ordeal as a motorist in Metro Manila. Sure, you may have mastered the basics of shifting gears or reading road signs or parallel parking. In practice, however, taking to the city streets can be stressful even to the most experienced drivers. Here we look at some handy tips you probably won’t get from your driving instructor.

Take care of your car

Nothing can ruin your day faster than having your car stall in the middle of the road. To prevent this, be diligent when it comes to your car’s regular maintenance. Learn how to do the most basic troubleshooting and repairs. This way, you don’t overspend and run to the mechanic every time something goes wrong.

Also, never forget your tool box. You’ll never know what could happen in the streets. While you’re at it, invest in a good car insurance plan in case of accidents and other untoward events. Be sure to shop around for the best auto insurance rates so that you don’t throw money away on the wrong policy.

Learn the lay of the land

One of the trickiest parts of driving in Metro Manila is navigating its somewhat confusing back roads and streets. Always keep an eye out for signs of detours, or warnings of road closure when passing these types of ways. You wouldn’t want to be stuck in a narrow alley with no way to drive but in reverse.

There are also these notorious spots in Makati and Binondo where one-way streets seem to spontaneously sprout one after another. Avoid having the mistake of driving through one going the wrong way by asking directions from local authorities. Be sure to know the exact directions before leaving the main road.

Of course, the easiest way nowadays is through the use technology. Plan your routes out in advance with apps like Google Maps or get guided directions from apps like Waze.

Go on the defensive

The first time you go behind the wheel, you’ll hear a lot from your instructor about the importance of defensive driving. We cannot repeat enough how much this matters in Metro Manila, where you risk running into reckless drivers wherever you go.

If you’re the type who enjoys zooming through asphalt like they do in the “Fast and the Furious” movies, well, knock it off! Focus your energies on following traffic rules and avoiding risky maneuvers if you want your car to reach your destination in one piece.

Be on alert for “patok” jeepneys and those that drive like their playing GTA. Stay defensive and keep your cool. Having to experience the heart-stopping gitgitan on semi-crowded highways may get you a little flustered, but keep your focus. Try your best to avoid being taunted into a dogfight type of race against these adrenaline-hyped drivers.

Use your common sense

“Look both ways” is an oft-repeated piece of wisdom for pedestrians, but it’s also an underrated advice for motorists. Whenever you make a turn or approach an intersection, check both sides of the road so that you don’t get into any head-on collisions. You might want to check behind your car, too.

Another piece of advice we shouldn’t have to repeat: obey traffic laws, no matter what everybody else around you is doing.

There will be times when roads will call you to be aggressive. There will be crossings every here and there that requires assertive driving. These are the crowded crossings that don’t have stoplights. There are examples of these along Araneta Avenue, Quezon City. For some reason basic rules of give and take don’t often apply in these areas.

When you start to notice how drivers keep on passing in front of you without anyone giving way, slowly forward your car into position. Wait for a wide enough opening then time your advance and commit to it. It is indeed quite frightening for new drivers especially when it’s dark. Sometimes you just have to trust your gut and hope for the best. Of course, proper signaling would be a very big help here.

Lock your doors

This is a no-brainer when you’ve parked your car outside your office or at the mall, but locking your car doors is also a must while you’re still on the highway. The Philippines has no shortage of stories where bandits take advantage of lulls in traffic to rob drivers in broad daylight.

Whether the threat is petty thieves grabbing your laptop bag from the passenger seat or carnappers brandishing guns, a locked door can be a simple but effective barrier to criminal elements on the road.

Keep your guard up

In Metro Manila, the average driver can get stopped on the road for any number of reasons – many of them not good. Even stopping to help out a fellow motorist could get you in trouble, as staging fender benders has become an increasingly popular carnapping tactic.

Avoid parking your car in the dark regions of the universe, or at least not under a tree somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Park your car on well-lit areas or those with guards around. And never leave your valuables inside an unattended vehicle.  If you really have to leave it, place your things in less conspicuous areas like the glove compartment, the trunk or at least behind a reclined seat. It is always easiest to just break the car’s windows and grab things placed on top of the seats.

Maintain constant vigilance when driving, paying attention to both possible hazards and road oddities. If something strikes you as suspicious, follow your instinct and steer clear of trouble. Being vigilant could also save you in case you get stopped by a traffic cop demanding a bribe.

In these cases, I prefer to put things on your call. We don’t have to sugarcoat the situation here in the Philippines. It does happen. Officers do stop drivers with no intention of issuing tickets. Whether you’re willing to pay the “lagay,” or get a ticket, remember that it is still your choice.

Keeping a dashcam or at least having your camera phone ready to document questionable apprehensions can be a very good defensive tactic against abuse.

Occupy yourself during traffic jams

Metro Manila is notorious for its bumper-to-bumper traffic, so you might need a way to keep yourself sane while sitting in rush hour gridlock. Find something you can do even while stranded in your vehicle. To conserve fuel, turn your engine off after 30 seconds of idling.

Your options are endless: Listen to your music of choice, preferably something nice and soothing. If you own a smartphone, you could also watch some videos or download free podcasts you could play while waiting for the traffic to clear up.

Remember the ‘Golden Rule’

Some of the more severe traffic problems in Manila could probably be solved if everybody remembered the same advice: “Don’t be a jerk.” Yes, the road is full of terrible drivers who don’t keep their road rage in check, but that doesn’t give you free rein to imitate their behavior.

Quite simply, always mind your manners wherever you go. If you need incentive not to lose your temper and honk your horn, look no further than the scores of embarrassing road rage incidents that have gone viral on YouTube.

Jeff Lizardo is an entrepreneur and a marketing associate for MoneyMax.PH. Together with his friends, he runs a music bar / venue / café that hosts gigs that feature OPM independent musicians and bands. Relatively new to blogging and as a former Physics teacher, his most common literary works consist of lesson plans, grading sheets, and parent-teacher correspondence letters. He also worked on a variety of love letters as a boy. You may follow him @JeffersonLizard.

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    Avoid scams by acting locally or paying with PayPal
    Never pay with Western Union, Moneygram or other anonymous payment services
    Don't buy or sell outside of your country. Don't accept cashier cheques from outside your country
    This site is never involved in any transaction, and does not handle payments, shipping, guarantee transactions, provide escrow services, or offer "buyer protection" or "seller certification"