Big Kahuna

A word on driving in St. Thomas

You may imagine that life on an island is a pretty relaxed one, and you’re right, it is. Scott and I moved to St. Thomas prepared to shed our East Coast habits of speed and impatience and we quickly embraced the island life of ‘when it happens it happen’, a.k.a. Island Time.

We’ve learned to discard the behaviors once practiced daily – the heavy sighing while you’re waiting on something, the foot tapping and constant checking of time, the shooting of dirty looks to the people that just aren’t moving fast enough to appease us – all of that has been replaced with tolerance and amused glances. For the most part our lives have slowed down, with one exception.

Driving.

Here’s a few facts about driving in St. Thomas:

1) Due to the steep and curvy roads you’re rarely going to go faster than 35mph

2) At some point you’ll find yourself stuck behind a water delivery truck as it chugs up a hill at less than 5mph

3) Driving laws are not enforced (as compared to the states)

4) There’s no open-container law (drinking while driving is legal)

5) People will stop at random to greet and quick-chat with aquaintances

6) Honking is how island drivers communicate, and not in the angry lay-on-the-horn way you might be thinking, rather it’s more like this: One beep translates to Go ahead, I’m letting you pull out/pass by/go in front of me – Two beeps says Thanks! 

7) You must drive on the left

Seems pretty simple, right? Let’s revisit the same facts, but this time I’ll add in some extra, um, stuff.

1) It’s true you don’t hit high speeds here, until you’ve committed the road’s twists and curves to memory and you’re now attempting to beat a world speed record by seeing just how fast you can take these hairpin turns without losing complete control of your vehicle.

2) Water trucks, confused tourists and big cruiseship-passenger-carrying safari taxis are the annoying roadblocks just lurking around the next corner to slow you down from 30mph to 3mph with little notice.

If you’re lucky you’ll be on a section of road with just enough future view to pass them. Not enough future view? Then you’re along for the ride, as the taxi/water truck/tourist takes their time – unless you’re a member of the No Future View group. This group of drivers will pass a slower vehicle no matter how high the risk. Clearly crazy, I know.

3) Driving laws such as no speeding or passing are not strongly enforced (as compared to the states). Obeying stop signs and traffic lights are a must though; and talking on your cellphone? An ABSOLUTE no-no. And please, wear your seatbelt all the time, they will pull you over for that.

4) So yeah, the whole ‘no open container law’ thing. This is true, and you’re more than welcome to leave a bar with a beer and drive home with the bottle in the cup-holder normally reserved for coffee. Drinking and driving is a way of life here in St. Thomas. Here’s a typical result of too much drinking and driving:

YouTube Preview Image 

5) It’s not uncommon for people to stop traffic while slowing down to hold a conversation with someone on the side of the road. It’s also not uncommon for people behind the stopped car to patiently wait for the conversation to end, and no amount of irritation will change that, so if you always wanted to try meditation that’s a good time to start. 

6) My parents rented a car when they came down here, and as I watched dad drive I could see his hand shadowing the horn, ready to notify people of wrong-doings on the road. I warned him that if he tooted the horn he should be prepared for someone to pull out in front of him, taking the toot as an invitation. Island drivers rarely honk in aggravation, and if you drive down here it’s important to be aware of Proper Horn Behavior.

7) Yes, we drive on the left in the Virgin Islands – and you’ll get used to it pretty quickly. Oh, and remember to keep on eye on oncoming traffic while you’re here, as you never know when someone sipping a beer while chatting on their cellphone in the middle of attempting a speed record as they pass a water truck might come along…

So, as I read this over I believe I’ve provided you with a great roadmap (get it?) to driving on St. Thomas. As relaxed as Scott and I became when we moved here we’ve managed to retain our Boston driving ‘skills’, although we’re far away from joining the No Future View passing group – that be dangerous mon! 

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4 Comments »

  1. July 23, 2008 @ 4:13 pm

    Getting Around St. Thomas, Choose Your Wheels! Said,

    [...] ever will, and you’ll soon find out that you rarely drive faster than 40mph. You can also use this post as a crash course for St. Thomas [...]

  2. November 13, 2008 @ 5:09 am

    Anonymous Said,

    Do you know historically why cars drive on the left side of the road in St. Thomas?

  3. July 19, 2011 @ 5:33 am

    Back in St Thomas – Here. There. Everywhere. Said,

    [...] so skilfully. We were in good hands. Many steep and winding roads plus a few hairpin turns later (read all about driving in St Thomas here) we made it to Mountain Top, the highest point on St Thomas. 1542 feet above sea level, and also [...]

  4. February 9, 2012 @ 12:12 pm

    Lindsey Said,

    I just stumbled across your blog, I actually chuckled out loud. My boyfriend and I are planning on a move to St. Thomas and were wondering about the driving, your blog post summed it all up for me! Are you guys still living on the island?

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