Born to Ride? The Awful Ecuadorian Driving Style

Always cross the street at the red light. Why? Because if a driver sees a yellow or green and you are crossing, they won’t stop, trust me. As ashamed as I feel, I think I’m sometimes one of them: the Ecuadorians, who have a professional racing driver complex. I’ve always wondered why we’re like that. I do not consider myself to be a reckless driver, but something happened a few days ago to make me reconsider. I was driving, trying to cross an intersection, with tons of cars in front of mine. Suddenly, there was this bus driver next to me, you know, with his hand outside the window, waving at me and I just thought, “Oh hell no, I’ve been here for almost half an hour, in the correct line, waiting for my turn to cross and he just comes and waves at me? HELL NO!”

I just mouthed “no” and as soon as the light turned green, I hit the accelerator and did not give him a chance. Why did I do that? Keep reading–I think I figured it out. I’m not an experienced driver. I do not drive in big, busy roads or on trips. I just drive in the city and some days it is emotionally exhausting. You go with your heart in one hand and pray to Jesus you won’t crash, because when you see the news you think, “Oh my God, how did this happen?” And I pray that my family and I are never involved in these crashes.

Let me paint a picture for you: you are driving, at the legal speed, when you see someone behind you beeping like crazy–maybe their behind is on fire, who knows? But they keep beeping and they are so close to you, and when you look at them in your mirror they are screaming at you, until finally they try to overtake your car in the wrong lane. Now, if you are like me, you might like to teach them a lesson, so you won’t give this person the space to pass you. Instead you’ll stay in the middle until this person just gets tired and finally does it in the correct way. Ha! Lesson learned! But of course the police officer who was nearby will not understand your point in giving a lesson… a ticket for you. So lesson number #1: Do not ever try to teach an Ecuadorian driver a lesson because you might get caught by the police and of course the idiot you were trying to teach the lesson to becomes the victim here.

Here’s another case: every Ecuadorian (so ashamed of this but it’s so true) thinks they are so close to every place, so when we have to be somewhere at, let’s say, 8:00 a.m., we think to ourselves, “I can be there in 10 minutes.” It doesn’t matter if it is one block away from your house or at the end of the world. But then it is 7:45 a.m. and we get nervous and start to do everything at the speed of light and we find ourselves driving 100 km per hour, changing gears as fast as we can, overtaking every car in our way until finally the road becomes a racetrack. So lesson # 2: We are always late. No matter if it is for a meeting, church, or work; I think this is our worst flaw.

I think it has a lot to do with culture, and I do not mean our incredible heritage. I mean the set of actions which define a nationality. Let me explain a little more: when I was a driving student, I was in this car on the small streets of El Centro, and the teacher would say “Please hit the brake. Let’s wait for the pedestrians to cross,” but he would never say, “Please give that other car space to turn into your lane.” I do not recall one time he said that, and I don’t know why or what happens in our brains that won’t allow us to do this. To write about this I watched carefully every time someone tried to ask for “space” to turn and almost no one gave it, not even me. We just hate seeing other cars go in front of us in the wrong way. In my case, I just want to teach them a lesson–they need to wait. Everybody’s time is valuable, so just because they have a big truck or a big car doesn’t mean they can go in the wrong lane and then just wave their hands to ask for space. No, no, and no! Does this make me a bad person? Like everybody else, I want to be home as soon as I can but I try, most of the time, to be polite, but some days it just gets me so mad. We call them los sapos, “the frogs”, because they try to jump ahead of you.

I do feel bad for speeding sometimes when I’m late. I don’t ever want to be involved in an accident or hurt anybody or wake up in a hospital or, worst of all, wake up in jail because you were an angry or reckless driver. This is why I pray to God every day to give me the courage to stop trying to teach drivers a lesson and just mind my own business. I just want to drive carefully, mindfully, and keep praying that neither you nor I have an encounter with the sapos, the law, or jail. So have a happy drive and be careful  with Ecuadorians because if we can, we will run you over. So please be a safe walker, too!

11 Responses

  1. I share Roxana’s views and concerns. I drove in Ecuador and in over 40 countries around the world and consider the local skills / courtesy to be the lowest I ever encountered. There is no driving tradition to speak of, no driving schools to truly teach how to use the public roads and the ever present macho attitude making this a deadly mix…proved by local statistics. Driving here for 5 years now at a rate of 20,000 km per year provided me with the first hand experiences on Ecuadorian “road safari”

  2. I love this piece. Well written and personal. I think we have all been in your shoes. The nice thing is you are humble enough to reign yourself in. Most drivers lack that. I think it appropriate to mention as well that it has been less than 10 years since the country required drivers to take a course and a drivers test to become licensed. As a result many older drivers have no formal education about road rules, the meaning of signs, how to properly pass on the left, how to parallel park and so forth. I notice that many Lojano drivers have made up their own unwritten traffic rules such as, “if your going to make a left turn, turn on the left turn blinker and pull to the right to allow traffic behind you to pass and once everyone’s through then make your turn”. As a result the left turn blinker here means “pass me so that I can proceed to make my left hand turn”. So dangerous! if you don’t do it this way you get lots of blowing horns at you. I’m sure there are many more instances like this, but you really have to keep your cool and allow yourself time to get to your destination.

  3. It is amazing how many people seem to change personalities when they get behind the wheel. I still remember in my driver education class many (MANY) years ago when they showed a Disney character film. Goofy was mild-mannered until he got behind the wheel and became a monster. His hood ornament became a bulls-eye for him to aim at people and other cars. I cannot imagine sweet, pleasant Roxi becoming such a demon, but I’ve never ridden with her either. LOL

  4. There is so much respect for older people here…special lines at the bank…discounts…Ecuadorians LOVE, revere and respect their elders. BUT. Put one crossing the street, and they GUN their engines. They see somebody crossing the street and VROOM…!!! BEEN there WAY many times. WHY IS that when there’s such love in their hearts for abuelo and abuela? They may not be yours, but they are loved by someone else. I have found Ecuadorians to be the kindest people on earth…but…not when they’re behind the wheel.

    1. Ugh!!! This article, though well-written and entertaining, was simply unbearable for me to read!! It’s another factor that keeps me from moving to that part of the world! That mindset makes me crazy!! I have not visited Ecuador, but I experienced this same dangerous driving in Panama and Costa Rica. Not to mention the uncontrolled emission problem – I about choked on it!

  5. This is the quintessential “Mr. Toad” complex. Trying to stay calm and very alert is the key. I didn’t realize how much the driving style here had affected me, until I went to visit family back in the States, and my mother was terrified due to my “aggressive driving”. Oh dear… When in Rome, er, Ecuador… 🙂

  6. When we were living in Ecuador, for fun I “ran the numbers,” comparing the fatality rate in Ecuador to that in the US. The results? You are about 10 times more likely to be killed in Ecuador than in the US. And, from experience, that result makes sense: Is it possible to make an extended road trip without at least one “Oh my God, we’re going to die” moment? Their driver manual (Spanish, of course), says (at least when I took the test) that the proper distance from the vehicle in front is “one car length”; what they omit is “for each 10 kilometers of velocidad”(!), and that’s how they drive! Pedestrians fare even worse – note how markings on pavement surfaces are almost non-existent – they put them there but because they use cheap or inappropriate paint, it all gets rubbed out within a week. The entire car situation, including pollution, is a major negative factor in Ecuador and one of the reasons why we relocated back to the US.

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