A Guide to Safer Driving in Buenos Aires
May 17, 1997

While not yet having had the pleasure of being in Rome, where I am told the drivers are quite "interesting", I have been lucky enough to experience many different cities around the world, both as a pedestrian and as a driver. In Auckland, the drivers are rather peaceful and there arenít a lot of them as the city only has about 1 million people. In Sydney, theyíre generally law abiding with the odd reckless maniac, which is to be expected with a population of about 4 million. In Boston, another city with about 4 million inhabitants, theyíre generally "Driving While Clueless" and in San Francisco, theyíre often trying to avoid their hallucinations. In Manhattan, theyíre driving with intent to be somewhere else, know where theyíre going and are doing their damnedest to get there as soon as possible. Both Paris and London have lots of traffic but they still manage to provide the air of ordered chaos that is common with driving in a large city, provided we ignore Hyde Park corner and the Arc de Triumph.

Of course, all this fades into insignificance when compared with driving here in Buenos Aires. Statistically speaking, driving in this city should be similar to driving in a city like Manhattan: lots of traffic with a bit of excitement but no real problems if you keep on top of things. This naive concept was forcefully driven from my mind on the first day I arrived as I took a taxi from the airport to my hotel in the center of the city, arriving at about 5pm on a Monday. Over the past fourteen months that Iíve been living here, I have been reminded on a daily basis just how dangerous it is to be in any way involved with roads here in Buenos Aires, either as a driver or as a pedestrian.

The "Lonely Planet Guide To Buenos Aires" book states that more people in Buenos Aires would die from lung cancer if it werenít for the number of people killed by traffic. I would tend to believe this as I have spoken to many locals and the majority of them have had friends, friends of friends or family killed or maimed in automobile accidents.

To say that drivers here have a death wish is probably in the extreme, but they certainly drive as if they are invincible. Iím not sure where this "invincibility" comes from, whether it comes from religion, ego or reading automobile advertising brochures which make big issues of the "safety factors" built into their products. Regardless of its source, the results can certainly be stressful, if not terrifying, for the non-native driver.

In an effort to assist those trying to survive their walk or drive in Buenos Aires, I have the following advice:

Having said all this, I must admit that I quite enjoy driving in Buenos Aires as it lets me do all those things that I canít do in other cities without getting thrown in jail. My friends here say that I have become a real Portenyo as Iíve mastered the art of flinging colourful epithets at other drivers without stopping my conversation or interfering with my driving ability. I guess it was all those Mad Max RoadWarrier movies I watched as a kid.

In summary, I think that the only way to drive safely in Buenos Aires is by driving an Abrahms tank, as used by the US military with devastating effect in the Gulf War. If such a vehicle is beyond your means, just make do with what you have, follow the above guidelines and make sure your medical and life insurance are fully paid up.

Written for the Buenos Aires Herald on May 17th, 1997.