Philippines – Basic Driving Tips

In the Philippines, driving is on the right side of the road.

Dealing with Philippine traffic requires patience more than extreme caution.

Bumper-to-bumper congestion is often a way of life.

If you need to be at a certain place at a particular time, be sure to plan ahead and depart for your destination early. It’s best to overestimate your travel time if you can’t afford to be late.

In the Philippine’s largest cities, the traffic is both slow-moving and chaotic but local traffic management officers or the police are helping in monitoring and regulating it.

The peak high traffic hours are from 6 to 8 am, 11:30 am to 1:30 pm and 6 to 8 pm. Traffic in Makati city, especially the Central Business District, is unusually heavy on Friday, starting from 3 pm up to 11 pm.

Defensive driving is important especially in Metro Manila. There will be drivers who will swerve or pass without warning. Drivers will make turns without using their turn signals. Jeepneys, a common form of public transportation, around the city, have the invariable habit of stopping just about anywhere for passengers.

Always wear your seatbelt for your own safety. Most cities have laws requiring the use of seatbelts for both the driver and the front seat passenger. Traffic enforcers will apprehend drivers to remind them to wear them, will issue a ticket and confiscate the driver’s license. Always stop at a yellow traffic light. Speeding up to “make the light” may result in a ticket.

One will normally find tolls on the highways leading to another province or city. RFIDs are becoming more the norm and can save a lot of travel time for drivers who have them, but it’s best to always have available change to speed up the payment process when passing through toll sections. Signage in the country will normally post a 30-40 km/h speed limit, but in Manila Expressways the speed limit is usually 100 km/h. Unfortunately, while inner lanes of highways are meant for faster speed, this is not normally observed.

Can a foreign national drive in the Philippines?
Foreign nationals who are holders of a valid driver’s license from another country and recognized by the Land transportation Office of the Philippines may use their license for up to 90 days upon the arrival.

After that, one would need to apply for a local, non-professional license. The process is called license conversion.

Pre-requisites for license conversion are:

  • Work visa bearing a minimum one-year validity at the time of application
  • Alien Certificate of Registration Identity Card (ACR I-card)
  • Valid foreign license recognized by the Land Transportation Office of the Philippines bearing a minimum one-year validity
  • English translation of driver’s license from a Consular Office, if applicable
  • Valid Passport with Applicant’s current arrival date in the Philippines
  • Medical Certificate from Land Transportation Office accredited clinic
  • Tax Identification Number

What to Do During Vehicular Accidents
Going for a long drive/trip? Keep the local police or tollway emergency hotlines handy so you have an immediate number to call in case of an accident.

Here are some additional tips:

During Minor Accidents

1. Safety First: The top concern during an accident is the safety and well-being of all concerned. We advise you to alight from your vehicle and take pictures of the situation as soon as possible.

2. Do Not Cause Traffic: Kindly approach the other driver so you can agree to move your vehicles out of the road immediately. This will not only clear the road of possible traffic build-up due to curious passers-by but also get both of you off-the-road and free from imminent or possible danger from oncoming traffic. If needed, use flares or cones if you have them to alert other drivers, and turn on your hazard lights so that you are more visible. Call the nearest hospital if anyone has been hurt. Do not leave the scene of an accident - even a minor one-until everything has been resolved to everyone's satisfaction.

3. Interacting with the Other Driver: Keep your cool and refrain from losing your temper. Get the other driver's name, address, contact information, and insurance details, and provide the same for him or her (it is recommended to carry your insurance information in your vehicle). See if an amicable settlement can be made. If not, call the TOLLWAY/POLICE or, if in Metro Manila – the MMDA hotline (1-3-6), and ask for traffic enforcers/investigators to be present at the scene immediately. Remain at the scene until the investigators arrive and tell you that you can go.

4. Insurance and Repairs: With the basics taken care of, it's time to see about the damage to your car and how you can go about getting it fixed. If you can, call your insurance agent immediately while you're still at the scene and ask him about repairs. Keep in touch with the traffic investigators, and file a report on the accident if they ask.

Major Accidents

1. Check if anyone is hurt: Check yourself and your passengers to see if anyone has been injured. If someone is hurt, call for medical assistance right away by calling the TOLLWAY/POLICE or, if in Metro Manila – the MMDA hotline (1-3-6) to request for a medical team and a traffic investigator to go to the scene.

2. Make sure to take pictures of the accident: Your, as well as your passenger/s, welfare, should be the utmost concern. Once your condition and that of your passengers has been established, take pictures because this will be your best defence and tool for making your case. Photos showing the vehicles and the surrounding area can help get you out of a bind if the other person denies what happened. Make sure to take pictures of both vehicles, (including license plates), and the area where the accident occurred.

3. Move your vehicle off to the side of the road ONLY if possible: It is unsafe to continue to sit in traffic and a two-car fender bender could turn into a multiple-car pileup very quickly. If you are unable to move your vehicle, make sure to stay in the safest area of the incident until the investigators arrive.

4. Let the investigator take command of the situation: Once on-site, allow the investigators to work and institute measures to prevent the accident from getting worse.

When the police arrive, you will want to get their names (and contact information) so that you can refer back them later when reviewing the accident details. Please read the details of the report thoroughly before signing any document.

5. Exchange information with the other driver: If involved in an accident with another driver, make sure to exchange the following information with that driver: name, address, phone number, insurance company, policy number, driver's license number and license plate number. You also should write a description of each vehicle, including the make, model, year, and colour.

6. Contact your insurance company and know what your policy covers: After exchanging information with the other driver, your next move should be to contact your insurance company to let them know that you've been in an accident and to give them your version of the events. Additionally, you should be aware of what exactly your policy covers. You might find out that the actual cost to repair your car is manageable enough to avoid going through your insurer and incurring a premium hike.

7. File an accident report with the police department: Having a police report on hand can assist in speeding up the insurance claims process. You can file a report at your local police station.

Other Tips:

  • Don’t use mobile phones or other electronic devices while driving on any public thoroughfare, highway, or street in the Philippines, or while temporarily stopped at a red light. This law is covered by Anti-Distracted Driving Act, officially recorded as Republic Act No. 10913.
  • Be aware of number coding days. Always remember on what day your vehicle cannot be used based on the Metro Manila Development Authority number coding scheme and city ordinances. Driving on a wrong day will almost certainly result in a ticket.
  • Avoid buses, trucks, and jeepneys. Ordinary buses usually run faster than expected. Trucks usually carry full loads and may not be able to stop abruptly if required. And as mentioned, jeepneys stop anywhere and commonly have broken rear stoplights.
  • Install WAZE, a GPS navigation software-free to download-that works on smartphones and tablets with GPS support. This provides turn-by-turn navigation and takes into consideration the traffic situation. Check WAZE often as best routes and arrival can change constantly.

All in all, for careful drivers, driving in the Philippines is not that difficult.

Last update: 12 March 2020