Driving in the Philippines


Driving in the Philippines



Rule of the Road

Traffic in the Philippines drives on the right side of the road, which is unusual for an Asian country, but due to American influence in the early part of the 20th century.



Statistics (year 2007 figures)


UK comparison

Annual fatalities



Registered motor vehicles



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



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



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



Fatality quotient, (fatality rate x fatality risk)



Fatalities / 1,000 km road



Road length, km



Paved roads, %



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



Vehicle density, (motor vehicles / km)



Population density, (population / km2)





Statistics Summary

Despite the observed standards of very chaotic driving, there are pleasingly few fatalities in Philippines. This is probably due to low travel speeds in general. Statistics indicate that 48% of all motor vehicles are motorcycles, and a significant number of fatalities are motorcyclists who failed to wear a helmet. In the capital Manila more than half of all fatalities are pedestrian deaths.





Driving Environment

The Philippines is a grouping of more than 7,000 volcanic islands on the western side of the Pacific Ocean. The climate is tropical and frequented by monsoons. Due to the nature of the volcanic islands, much of the terrain is mountainous and is covered by forest. Roads tend to be narrow and wind excessively around the mountainsides.



Driver Behaviour

The Philippines comprises 11 large islands, plus 7,000 smaller ones. Observed characteristics of road travel vary significantly on different islands because many Filipinos don't travel from their home island. Traffic conditions therefore have evolved differently on different islands.

Drivers here have a tendency to drive very close to the side and the rear of vehicles in the cities. However, most drivers are content to just go with the flow, drivers are very placid, road rage is unheard of, and overtaking where not permitted is rare. In general the worst drivers are the drivers of large buses who appear to assume that size equals priority so they can change lanes regardless of what may be alongside, and the drivers of tourist minibuses who mistakenly think they have to rush just to please their passengers. However, all drivers are likely to pull out from a side road without giving way or even looking. The principles of giving way to traffic on the main road are not known here.






The vehicle stock varies enormously. Many cars are reasonably new, but others are quite ancient. Similar is true of buses and trucks of which there are many elderly examples. There are also some vehicle types which are common only to the Philippines, typically the jeepney which is a small bus built by significantly lengthening a jeep. Many jeepneys are customised with numerous accessories, most painted in vivid schemes, and large numbers of jeepney owners almost totally obscure the front windscreen with the customisation. It is surprising that drivers can see either waiting passengers, or the road ahead. Motorcycle side-cars are also common, named motor tricycles, and their bodywork style shows significant differences from island to island. Also pedal tricycles named pedicabs, having a sidecar designed for passengers or load vary in style. Some vehicle types or absence of typical types vary with each island of the Philippines.





Speed Limits

Speed is measured in km/h.

Signage is very rare but generally is of ISO (European) type of signs. The highest speed limit is on the Manila north Expressway at 100 km/h, some roads also have a minimum limit. In towns and villages it is rare to see a speed limit sign, but signs showing 40 km/h are occasionally placed. On some of the Philippines islands there is a 30 km/h limit entering each village, without showing the limit when leaving the village.



Traffic Signals

Traffic signals display the short 3-part sequence: green > amber > red > green, i.e. with no red & amber after the red. It is legally permissible to turn right at most red light signals, except where there is a sign prohibiting this, but of course always stop briefly and give way as necessary. Some signals may show flashing amber for all directions - slow down, give way, be prepared to stop. Some signals may show flashing red, you must stop, look in all directions, give way, but you may then drive on when safe.

On a Sunday many traffic signals are switched off, so slow down, give way, or stop.





Road signs

Regulatory, prohibitory, obligatory, hazard, directional, and advice signs generally follow the standard ISO (European) system. However, some signs display non-standard colours. Some hazard signs use a yellow background instead of white.

Directional signs are often noted by their absence, some may be located well in advance of a junction, just before, or at the junction, but many major and minor junctions within cities and in rural areas are not signed at all. Directions on some Philippines islands are signed better than on other islands. All worded traffic signs are in English.





Road markings

Both white and yellow are used randomly for all types of markings. In some cases continuous lines are in yellow and broken lines in white. A wide yellow is used to denote bus lanes and other restricted lanes in cities. White is commonly used to denote edge markings. A give way line or a stop line at a road end generally do not exist, although some zebra crossings are preceded by a stop line.





Kerb markings

Some junctions are painted with yellow & black kerbs, some areas of no parking are painted with either a red kerb or a yellow kerb, sometimes only on the vertical edge.




Roundabouts are not so common in the Philippines, and some islands have less than others, typically they have a sign mandating the circular traffic flow, but that is all. There are no signs or lines to suggest priority, although most drivers appear to accept that the circulating traffic has priority.






Except for traffic signals, generally all other uncontrolled junctions are unmarked and unsigned, and most drivers are in the general habit of emerging from a minor road to a major road without giving way and in many cases without even looking. The slow speed of traffic on the major route, coupled with the placidness of the Philippine drivers results in relatively few incidents.





Pedestrian Crossings

Zebra crossings marked with black/white or black/yellow bars across the road are common in towns, but very few drivers will stop for a pedestrian.





Railway Crossings

There are few railway routes and many railway level crossings in both cities and rural areas. None of the crossings have either barriers or lights. Some crossings are signed very poorly, some are not signed at all. Look & plan ahead, slow down, stop, look, & listen before crossing railway lines.




Highways are typically of 2 or 3 lanes in each direction, but some multilane roads in Manila are wider. Some are elevated and some have tolls, some have minimum speed limits and prohibit certain classes of vehicles, typically prohibiting slower vehicles.





City Driving

Roads within Manila are typically multilane, many one-way only. Traffic signals are common, roundabouts rare. Roads can be very crowded for several hours each day, for some routes across Manila it is certainly quicker to use the Metro trains. Direction signage is reasonable on some routes, but many signs appear to be missing especially just when you need one to confirm a turning.



Rural Roads

These can be very pleasant to drive along, although villages generally extend linearly along the roadside almost indefinitely. Many bridges have been damaged by overweight trucks and can have significant holes right through the surface and the structure, permitting the vehicle occupants to see through the hole to the river below. Be careful not to drop a wheel here, it will result in serious damage.





Night Driving

Night driving is not recommended anywhere except for a few main roads having street lighting in cities. Many drivers do not use lights, or don't switch them on until well after dark. The ubiquitous motorcycle & sidecar may have lights on the motorcycle but not on the sidecar, similar also to the pedal tricycle. Other vehicles show various coloured lights in all directions making observation of vehicle orientation and direction difficult.




Parking on the road is not a common practice, always move off the road to park, verges are often wide and with a firm surface.






Something to watch out for … some drivers have changed the amber direction indicators to blue, some vehicles may have any colours of lights at the front or at the rear making directional recognition at night very difficult.

Motorcycle and sidecar combinations are very manoeuvrable, the combination can pivot on the sidecar wheel so can U turn in less than its own length.


©Keith Lane 2009