Driving in Jamaica may seem like a daunting challenge at first. And in many ways, it is. There is a combination of factors such as different rules of the road, reckless drivers, and poor road conditions in some areas that make it difficult. Is it possible for our visitors from the US, UK or elsewhere to ever drive comfortably in Jamaica? YES OF COURSE!
Firstly, let’s look at some cases when driving is the best option:
Extended business trip
If you’re in Jamaica on business for say a month or even a couple weeks, hiring an on-demand driver might be expensive. You will not only need to attend meetings but also buy groceries, and maybe take a day off to see the city or the countryside. Having your own rental car to get things done when you need to in a timely manner would be a massive plus.
An authentic vacation
Hotels and tours might seem like an artificial experience if you have done in multiple times before. You go to a hotel in Cancun and you go to a hotel in Jamaica, and it’s the same thing. If you want to vacation at your own pace and see the real Jamaica, jumping in a car and heading out will give you just that! Many sites suggest you stay close to tourist centers but the truth is the government has strengthened security in the last few years to protect its tourists and visitors in general. Just like anywhere in the world, there are areas affected by crime and violence but advances towards tourists and visitors are most times limited to petty crimes and harassment from the average hustler that hangs out near hotels and airports anyways. So, don’t be afraid to explore!
Migrating to Jamaica
Well, this one is the most obvious. If you plan on moving to Jamaica, then you will have to get around. Driving is the best way to do so. Public transportation in Jamaica is cheap but will never get you where you need to be on time.
If you read these and they sound like the trip you are planning, then here is our breakdown of road safety in Jamaica!
Rules of the road when driving in Jamaica
Drive on the left
In Jamaica, you drive on the left side of the road like in the UK. So, if you’re from the US, for example, there are a few things to note. Remember when turning that you should never turn into the right. Some persons think they get a hang of it quickly only to make the mistake of turning into oncoming traffic. Also, Jamaica uses right-hand drive vehicles so some of the controls might be different. For example, the windscreen wipers and indicators are inverted.
Driver’s License is required
In order to drive, your domestic driver license is fine. Have it at all times with a copy of your passport, vehicle registration and insurance.
Must be 18 or older to drive
You can drive if you are 18 years and older in Jamaica however to rent a car you need to be at least 21 with some driving experiences. Generally, car rental companies have surplus charges for persons renting a car under 25 years of age.
Buckle up, its the law
All occupants of a moving vehicle must have their seatbelts on. With the exception of a bus where only persons sitting in the front seats are required.
Children from 3-12 must not sit in the front seat. Under 3 requires a car seat either on the back seat or on the front seat with the child facing away from a deactivated airbag.
Unless a sign notes otherwise, there common speed limits in Jamaica are:
– 110kph for highways
– 80 kph for open roads
– 50 kph in built-up areas including towns and villages.
No drinking while driving
With the challenges that Jamaican roads present, we advise not drinking at all if you plan to drive. It’s not worth the risk. On top of that, the blood alcohol content limit when pulled over in Jamaica is 35mg per 100ml of blood. This is less than half of the amount allowed in the UK. One drink might be enough to take you over this limit.
If you are pulled over for a traffic offense, always request a ticket from the officer which you can pay at any local police station. NEVER give cash to a police officer in order to avoid a ticket. It is a criminal offense.
In case of emergency
If you ever have an emergency on the road such as a breakdown or accident, look for toll-free emergency number signs on highways or dial 119 for police or 110 for the fire department. Motor signs in Jamaica, for the most part, is blue with white letters similar to the UK.
Road Conditions in Jamaica
There are good roads and there are bad roads in Jamaica, depending on the area.
In developed urban areas roads are paved and are ok, with one or two minor potholes. Try to avoid driving through heavily congested areas such as Kingston, Spanish Town and Ocho Rios during rush hour (7-9am & 4-7pm). Navigation apps usually work fine in these areas.
Jamaica now has superhighways that connect most parts of the island. You can go from Montego Bay to Kingston without ever leaving the highway itself. This is the route you should stick to if you don’t have a local friend travelling with you.
A little more precaution
As you leave more develop areas to explore Jamaica fully, you will come across roads in bad conditions. Especially if you are taking scenic routes instead of the highway or taking a trip to the Blue Mountains. These roads are narrow, worn by weather, have animal crossings and are occupied by drivers who won’t slow down to please you. It is best to get someone who is experienced with driving in Jamaica to take you to these places, especially at night. Just remember to add their name to the paperwork if renting a car. Do not solely rely on navigation apps for these areas. Take the safest roads advised by locals. Google does not know the condition or the danger of some of the routes it is recommending.
The type of car you rent depends on your budget, and a compact car is absolutely fine for the city but Mini-SUV is definitely worth it if you are looking to go off the beaten path.
Drivers in Jamaica
Whether you are in a rural or urban area, however, Jamaica has its fair share of reckless motorists who speed, stop suddenly, turn without indicators and overtake recklessly. There is also a lot of jaywalking by pedestrians. This is because of a lack of enforcement of the law.
We advise defensive driving – With all that’s going on, goats on the road, people not using a pedestrian crossing, potholes, aggressive drivers. Drive slowly but surely. Don’t take chances or let other drivers force you to speed, no matter how much they toot their horn.
All in all, driving in Jamaica is worth it. If you learn to drive comfortably here, you could probably drive anywhere in the world. Are you planning to drive in Jamaica any time soon? Check out some more helpful tips for your trip here:
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