Driving in Mauritius

 

Driving in Mauritius

  

Rule of the Road

Traffic in Mauritius drives on the left side of the road, as it does in other British Commonwealth countries.

  

Statistics (year 2007 figures)

Mauritius

UK comparison

Annual fatalities

140

3,298

Registered motor vehicles

334,125

34,327,520

Motorisation rate, (motor vehicles / 1,000 population)

265

565

Fatality rate, (deaths / 10,000 motor vehicles)

4.2

1.0

Fatality risk, (road deaths / 100,000 population)

11

5.4

Fatality quotient, (fatality rate x fatality risk)

46

5

Fatalities / 1,000 km road

69

8

Road length, km

2,015

392,342

Paved roads, %

100

100

Road density, (road length km / land area km2)

1

1.6

Vehicle density, (motor vehicles / km)

166

87

Population density, (population / km2)

618

249

  

Statistics Summary

Mauritius is a small crowded island having the 12th highest population density in the world and the 14th highest vehicle density. For a developing country the motorisation rate is relatively high and rising rapidly each year, although only 45% of this is due to cars, with a similar number of small motorcycles. The annual numbers of fatalities over the last decade has now stopped rising, but the fatality rate remains higher than desirable. However, one of the effects of a rising motorisation rate is that it acts to nullify the fatality rate.  In Mauritius 74% of road fatalities are pedestrians, cyclists, and motorcyclists.

  

 

Driving Environment

Mauritius is a small hilly tropical island in the Indian Ocean, 2,600 km from South Africa, 3,800 km from India, and 5,700 km from Australia. It measures just 60 km long by 40 km wide.

Most of the towns are in a contiguous line forming a corridor from the centre of the island to the west coast. Many of the streets have no footpath, so pedestrians walk on the roads everywhere, and most roads are bounded by a deep storm drain, sometimes covered. Additionally, in residential areas beyond the storm drain there is a tall wall, resulting in 90° blind corners at every junction. The major crop is sugar cane; immediately preceding harvesting the leaves are burned resulting in dense smoke blowing across roads at times.

The island is typically hit by one or two tropical cyclones each summer, between December and March. These bring very high winds and heavy rain, both causing significant damage. As each cyclone approaches all driving may be prohibited for a day or two, and afterwards driving may be difficult due to fallen trees and other debris on the roads.

 

 

Driver Behaviour

The drivers here are a mixed bunch, some obey the rules and are patient and courteous, others not. Many of the drivers are just impatient - they see a gap and go for it whether or not it is safe or sensible ! Most roads are narrow and overtaking is rarely safe anywhere, but drivers quickly become frustrated at any congestion so will force an overtake even where it isn't safe.

Most of the main roads are quite narrow, being barely wide for buses to pass in each direction. The island is served by an extensive and very frequent daytime bus service, so there is forever a bus just ahead wherever you are driving, and the buses have a habit of stopping very frequently on the road because bus laybys are rare. Passing the bus is rarely a safe option, therefore you will be incessantly held up every time the bus stops. Beware of oncoming traffic which insists on passing a stopped bus, brake early to avoid a head-on crash.

Also beware of oncoming drivers swerving violently to their opposite side of the road to avoid the smallest of potholes. Road traffic policing is minimal, although the police are now using breathalysers and hand-held speed radar, but fines are also minimal.

 

 

Vehicles

The registration of new motor vehicles is restricted by very high taxation to control explosive demand which would otherwise have the potential to over-saturate the roadspace available. Because of this the vehicle stock is a mixture: many newer cars, but a large number of used imports, and a sizeable proportion of older vehicles, many dating to the 1950s.  Similarly, many buses are quite old, as are many of the lorries. Some older vehicles appear to be of questionable roadworthiness.

Mopeds and motorcycles account for almost half of all registered motor vehicles, most of these having small engines which are severely underpowered when climbing any hill. A significant proportion of mopeds and motorcycles have the handlebars shortened or angled backwards so they are no wider than the fuel tank to allow the rider to squeeze through narrow gaps in traffic. Many of these smaller mopeds also double as commercial vehicles, severely overloaded with goods of all types. Animal-drawn carts are now rare. During the sugar harvest, for about 8 months of the year, it is common to see an agricultural tractor hauling a triaxle trailer loaded with up to 30 tonnes of sugar cane, all braking done by the tractor only. Between the sugar factories and the export terminal 'B-double' trucks are commonly used, that is, a tractive unit hauling 2 semi-trailers.

 

 

 

Speed Limits

Speed is measured in km/h. Signage follows the ISO (European) standard, and all numbers are shown in European digits. There has been significant improvement in signage in recent years. Not long ago location of the speed limit signs was rather haphazard, typically a single sign at any random location in the centre of a village, or located where town boundaries formerly were 50 years previously. However, the author of this article gave a series of recommendations to the Mauritius Government and these have been acted upon. Mauritius now has an excellent speed limit signage system; all residential areas now have a limit of 40 km/h, and the highest limit is on some sections of the two motorways at 110 km/h.

The police now have several mobile speed cameras and hand held speed detectors, but it seems they need more.

 

Traffic Signals

Mauritius has progressed from the traditional 4 phase: green > amber > red > red & amber > green, sequence, and now uses the shorter 3 phase: green > amber > red > green, sequence.

Most signals are now the much brighter LED type, which can be seen better in bright daylight.

However, to cope with the occasional power cuts, many of the traffic signals also carry a stop sign or give way sign to show priority when the lights are off.

Many signals are switched off during evenings and at weekends, some show a flashing amber, but are usually all black. When the lights are off, obey the signs, slow down, give way, or stop.

Unfortunately it is becoming increasingly common for drivers to run a red light several seconds after the end of the green phase, and to jump a red light a couple of seconds before the start of the green phase. Red light cameras are not yet installed but are needed.  

 

 

Road signs

All regulatory, prohibitory, obligatory, hazard, directional, and advice signs are in the standard ISO (European) system, and all signs displaying numbers, e.g. speed limits, distances, parking time limits are all displayed in European digits. However, some ancient signs are still in use, following the UK pre-1965 system. Many older signs are hand painted so are not retroreflective, although these are generally being phased out. All worded signs are written in English, although many place names have French pronunciation.

  

 

Road markings

Markings follow normal standards, with the exception of zebra crossing zigzag lines, which are painted early on approach but not at the crossing. Unfortunately, on a road with numerous zebra crossings, this means the zigzags are painted alternately between the crossings but not at the crossings. Stop lines are commonly painted in a gulley across the end of the minor road to allow rainwater to flow along the same line, so they are often impossible to see until the driver is close. White is used for all lane markings, except yellow is used for temporary markings and parking restrictions.

 

 

Kerb markings

Some kerbs are painted alternately black/white, this is primarily for visual recognition near to junctions. Parking restrictions are painted with single or double yellow lines along the edge of the road.

 

Roundabouts

Roundabouts on major routes are typically marked with give way lines on entry, however, some smaller roundabouts are marked with stop lines. Emerging traffic follows the normal convention of giving way to circulating traffic. Unusually, the circulating lanes are separated from each other by a continuous line between exits to prohibit lane-changing in the roundabout.

 

 

Intersections

Most intersections are blind crossroads or T junctions, due to shortage of useable land, resulting in tall residential walls built right up to the edge of the road. In rural areas the main crop is sugar cane, grown to use every last inch, so for much of the year sightlines can be non-existent in trying to see around corners where this tall crop is grown. However, significant improvement of sightlines has been observed at many junctions recently, compared to a decade ago.

 

Pedestrian Crossings

Zebra crossings are common in towns. It is a legal requirement for drivers to allow pedestrians to cross, and it is prohibited to overtake, although many drivers don't comply with the law.

  

Railway Crossings

Mauritius is considering reinstating its previously dismantled railway line. Presently there are no active crossings, and any future designed crossings are likely to be to a high safety standard.

 

 

Highways

There are 2 major highways from Port Louis, one to the north, the other to the airport on the east coast. These are of varying standard, having a 110 km/h speed limit, but beware of a stopped bus that may move into lane 1 from a bus stop. The highways are used by all types of user, including bicycles and mopeds, and there are numerous minor crossings for all vehicles. Most major junctions are roundabouts, although a few now utilise flyovers.

 

 

City Driving

Roads around the cities are typically narrow, busy, and congested. Traffic is often constrained by the numerous buses stopping for passengers, with little opportunity to pass a stopped bus. Major and many minor junctions are controlled by traffic signals, and some may have 2 lanes in each direction. Most streets are narrow with tall walls to the edge of the road, so sightlines at junctions are commonly very poor. Most roads have very deep open storm drains along the edge, extending to the corner of the junction without any radius, take care not to drop a wheel into a storm drain.

 

Rural Roads

Rural roads are typically quite narrow, necessitating slowing to safely pass oncoming traffic, especially larger vehicles. Many have a pleasant series of bends, but depending upon the season, when the sugar cane is tall before harvesting sightlines are very poor at bends and junctions.

 

 

Night Driving

Night driving is not recommended in Mauritius as most roads are unlit, and of those having street lighting the illumination is poor and tends to be very patchy. There are numerous hazards that are unlit at night: pedestrians walking along the roadside everywhere, numerous cyclists and motorcyclists without any lighting, and numerous vehicles with inoperative or insufficient lighting. There are no large wild animals here, but cattle sometimes roam loose on the road.

 

 

Parking

Parking is permitted on-road, but many roads are too narrow or too busy to facilitate on-street parking. Some on-street bays are marked where there is sufficient space to park, but it is much easier to find an off-street car park, for a small fee.

   

Oddities

Something to watch out for …

Buses and lorries must be still equipped with a 1 foot square red flag, and all bus and lorry drivers undergoing their driving tests are still required by a 1954 regulation to signal left or right by waving their red flag from the driver's window. A few other bus and lorry drivers may also wave their red flag if their direction indicators are not working. If you see the red flag waved keep back, as the intended direction left or right is not easily determined by the waving of the flag.

 

©Keith Lane 2010