Newcomers to driving in Guyana, either born here or recently come here, are at some disadvantage with the material given to them by the Motor Vehicle Licence Office. That information gets you familiar with the rules of the road, the laws and the penalties – the conventions in Guyana – but there is a host of vital information about local conditions that you have to discover by trial and error. It is therefore my suggestion that the Licence Office should produce a friendly advice booklet called “The Guyana Driving Manual” so that new drivers are aware of all the small but pertinent details of driving here.
For example: the manual doesn’t tell you what to do when you come to a traffic light that is on a coffee break. You’re northbound on the UG road, and the light on the East Coast is blank. You’re not sure if it’s out or just on a long cycle, and traffic is going east and west at a rate. What to do? The solution is in the experienced driver behind you who knows the area; he will give you two short blasts on the horn and a longish one – in Guyana parlance that means, “Da light ain’t wukkin’ man, guh lang.” That should be on page 1 of the manual.
The booklet should also tell you that on certain stretches of road marked for two lanes, rush-hour drivers will often convert that into three (Carifesta Avenue, for instance) so if you find yourself in traffic where the white lines are ignored, don’t panic; our drivers are simply doing what the folks outside achieve with moveable pylons; they’re adjusting to traffic flow. But the manual should warn you in advance; it will save some panic attacks.
The driving manual should also tell you that we often ignore the convention on turning etiquette. You’re in two lanes of traffic heading east, and you’re in the right hand lane signaling a right turn. In those conditions, be aware that the driver on your left will sometimes sneak ahead as the light changes, and make a sharp right across your bow before you can blink. Worse yet, a third driver, sitting on the shoulder at the far left, will sometimes leap in front of both you and the driver next to you, with no previous indication of this move. The manual should say this can happen anywhere, but to look out particularly for it on Sheriff Street.
The booklet should also tell you that street markings in GT don’t always line up. At that same Seawall Road/UG junction, the white lines differ by 10 feet as you come through the intersection, so unless you shift, left or right, you end up straddling the white line and every horn in creation lets you know that you’re driving like a jackass. There’s another situation like that in town (I forget the name of the street) crossing over Regent Street where you suddenly find yourself driving into the oncoming lane. A warning about that should be in the manual.
New motorists should also be told that what is regarded as a road shoulder in most countries is generally seen as just another stretch of paved road here. As a result, motor cyclists see this as an opportunity to beat those two lanes of rush hour traffic and they will come steaming along that shoulder, passing you, in effect, on the wrong side and usually with not even a warning toot to alert you. The obvious danger is in someone in the passenger seat opening a door to throw out some Styrofoam which is another condition to watch for – projectiles from vehicles.
New drivers should also be warned of the Guyanese inclination to slide across traffic and park on the “wrong side” of the road. There is the potential for accidents going in, as well as coming out (you’re against the traffic both times), but it’s the norm here, and the manual should warn you. Mind you, it’s worth noting that this practice is so widespread that it produces no middle fingers from other motorists, or four-letter words, or even blasts from the horn – Guyanese calmly accept it as persons finding a parking spot.
It would also help if drivers were given little tips about road conditions for more comfortable driving. Coming west from Ogle on the East Coast Road, for instance, there is a prominent repair bump over the bridge a few hundred yards on. Experienced drivers know the bump is most severe in the middle, so they veer left or right going over that stretch for a smoother ride. Farther along, approaching the Ocean View area, there is a substantial swale in the left-hand lane that can give your vehicle a fierce double bump, but you can avoid that by sliding over to the right lane, or, yes, the left-hand shoulder.
Of course, as driving conditions are changing all the time, the Driving Manual will have to be updated as defects are repaired, sinks leveled out, one-way signs erected, and holes filled in. However, each edition of the publication will advise new drivers of the possibility of highly unusual road maneuvers. Just last week, for instance: Lamaha Street at 8:30; traffic jam time. There is a slow line of traffic going east, and an almost stopped line going west. On the south side of the Lamaha Street, a driver, is reversing out of his driveway into the west-bound lane. As the traffic stops to let him out, he gives a wave and moves out into the lane, driving in reverse going west on Lamaha Street. I couldn’t figure out what was up (perhaps his forward gears weren’t working), but no horns blew, nobody shouted at anybody, no upraised finger came out of any window. In fact, everybody, including me, laughed.
A new motorist operating on Guyana’s roads would probably be in shock encountering a situation like that. My Guyana Driving Manual would advise drivers of the potential for such things, and generally make for safer and more comfortably driving. Finally, as the Lamaha Street incident demonstrates, it will show that, as in most circumstances in life, a sense of humour helps.