Tips on Traffic Rules and Traffic Conduct on Argentinian Roads

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We loved exploring Argentina by car, especially after we left the urban areas of Buenos Aires behind you. It is the second largest country in South America and has lots of space with untamed wilderness and wildlife and, outside cities, little traffic. Having said that, Argentina does have a couple of wicked traffic rules, some of which we have seen nowhere else.

Car Lights and Traffic Lights

  • Outside urban areas it is mandatory to drive with headlights switched on, as is wearing a seatbelt. These traffic rules are enforced by the traffic police, who are visibly present on all national roads.
  • Be alert to cars turning, even if no turn signal is used. The latter device seems to have a decorative function more than anything else. Don’t expect drivers to understand, and thus react to, your turn signal. They may just as easily interpret it as a light not functioning properly.
  • While the common rule is to stop at red lights, there are areas in where you don’t want to stop (and nobody expects you to, even the police). This mostly concerns certain suburbs around Buenos Aires where it is not safe to stop at night. On these intersections, just slow down, check for traffic from side streets, and continue driving. Oh, and keep your doors locked.
  • The oddest rule we came across is that turning left is hardly ever allowed, not even at traffic lights. When this is the case, drive one block further, make three right turns (one-way streets permitting, a fairly common thing to complicate matters further) to get back to the original intersection and go straight across.

Streets and Right of Way

The majority of streets in urban areas are one-way streets. In case road signs lack, check how other cars are parked.

On double-lane roads, Argentinians don’t stay in the right-hand lane as much as possible and you don’t have to either. Even though this is common practice, being honked at when doing so is normal. Honking is in general done out of anger or irritation and usually unrelated to a situation being dangerous or not.

When you’re fast or big you have the right of way, even though according to the traffic rule the driver coming from the right has right of way.

Speed Limit and Road Signs

Speed limit signs change randomly and often within meters of each other, for example, 40 to 80, to 40, to 60 again. We assume this is the result of signs having been added and old ones not having been removed.

You may see a sign indicating a maximum speed of 40 but generally never see a sign indicating the end of this restriction. The same goes for other restrictions (there may be a sign ‘don’t overtake’, never to be followed by a sign ending this restriction). Obeying traffic rules in these cases comes largely down to a lucky interpretation of which sign applies when – and to how the traffic police interpret it.

The best, but least favorite, speed restrictions are the lomada, loma, or lomo de burro (donkey’s back)of which there is a spate in and around hamlets, towns and cities. The construction of speed bumps, which are sometimes painted yellow, sometimes colorless and more or less invisible in the shade of trees, is big business in Argentina; putting up a warning sign is not. You can count on speed bumps when entering or exiting a city or village.

Overtaking and Breakdowns

A continuous line on the road has no meaning. Argentinians overtake whenever they want. This includes police officers. Nevertheless, when caught by traffic police, the fine may be steep.

Even though carrying two warning triangles is mandatory, the majority of Argentinians put some rocks or branches on the road to indicate a car with a breakdown. Don’t expect cars with a breakdown to park on the side of the road. To Argentinians the middle of the road is just as safe. For your own safety, slow down when seeing an odd rock or branch on the road, especially when nearing a curve; there may be a car standing still right behind it.

Unwritten Traffic Rules in Argentina’s Rural Areas

  • A gentlemen’s agreement in Argentina (and Chile) is the motorist’s behavior on Patagonia’s so-called ripio, unpaved roads. In case of oncoming traffic, or a car wanting to overtake, slow down and drive as much on the edge of the road as possible. This way both parties avoid flying stones shattering a windshield.
  • In mountainous areas it is common to honk the horn when approaching a curve.

On the other hand, even though a vehicle coming uphill officially has right of way, this seems to be a non-respected rule by most drivers.

While Argentinians people do not necessarily drive faster than Europeans or North Americans, their conduct takes some time to adjust to when new in the country. In most cases, you will adjust quickly enough and be distracted by Argentina’s magic countryside and wildlife. Have fun! Oh, and don’t forget to bring your camping gear – camping is easy and fantastic here.

Do you have anecdotes to share with regard to Argentina’s road rules? We love to hear them below in the comment section.

For more on Safety Issues, check out these articles:

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Thank you for your support — Karin-Marijke & Coen

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