Taking to the wheel
Getting a local driving license
Driving in Lima is not for the faint-hearted, but if you keep your sense of humour and sharpen your reflexes, you will soon be able to flow into the traffic. City traffic is aggressive and exhausting, but the advantage of driving your own vehicle comes on the weekends or your free time when there are literally hundreds of places you can discover and explore outside Lima.
When you first arrive in Peru, you can drive on your International Drivers License for six months, but after that you will need to a local license.
The easiest process is to apply through the Touring & Automóvil Club del Perú (known as the Touring Club, or colloquially as el Touring) at Av. Cesar Vallejo 699, Lince. Tel. 211-9977 (www.touringperu.com.pe). They are the authorized agents at the driving test centre (Km 21.5 on the South Pan American Highway, just past the toll gate – Panamericana Sur), and they also issue the international licenses.
Getting a local license is not a complicated process, and it is relatively quick:
- You will need to take a medical exam and psychological test, either at the Touring Club or at a private centre or clinic authorized by the Ministry of Transport and Communications (MTC), presenting two colour carnet-sized photos (smaller than passport) and the original and a photocopy of your passport or residence card. The medical exam is standard (eyes, hearing, equilibrium, etc), while the psychological test is usually a series of multiple questions completely unrelated to driving (e.g. Did Columbus land in the Americas in 1642, 1492 or 1942?) and varies from clinic to clinic.
- You will have to take a written test of local road rules and regulations – the manual is available from the Touring Club, and the test can be taken at their facilities. There is a nominal fee for this.
- You only need to take an actual driving test if you have been driving for less than three years. Otherwise, you will be given your license when you pass the medical and road rules tests.
Auto Insurance is available through all insurance companies and brokers. Additionally, your vehicle requires a national vehicle insurance policy sticker (SOAT), which is purchased annually. This SOAT (Seguro Obligatorio de Accidentes de Tránsito) is obligatory and provides immediate third party coverage for personal injuries and death. This has been implemented because few people in Peru take out any kind of insurance on their vehicles, and city transport companies are particularly truant (every now and then, bus or truck drivers hold marches to protest this "imposition").
The annual policy is issued by the leading insurance companies. It can be bought almost anywhere, at banks, fuelling stations, drugstores, department stores, supermarkets and, of course, your insurance company. Place the sticker in the top right corner of your windshield and keep the certificate in your car.
A few tips to smoothen the way:
- It's not common practice to turn right on a red traffic light.
- Cars on a circle, or roundabout, have right of way –you're not expected to fully stop when entering a circle, but you will have to ease into the traffic.
- To most drivers, the amber light means 'speed up' rather than 'start slowing down', so beware at crossings. Be particularly careful late at night, when many drivers ignore traffic lights altogether.
- Few people flash directional lights to turn – a hand waving half way out of the driver's window, or even out of the passenger side window, is usually a signal for turning; a whole arm outside the window usually means the driver is just trying to get some fresh air.
- Be defensive and keep your cool. Playing chicken or dare (basically, "me first") is a national sport and is played by almost everyone –from the lady in her suburban van in San Isidro to the combi driver on the road into Villa El Salvador.
- Drivers don't always respect the One Way signs, especially if it is in their own neighbourhood.
- If the police signal or whistle for you to stop (a long, sharp whistle), pull over but you are not required to get out of your car. The police cannot impound your driver's license or other documents. Traffic violation tickets can be paid at the Banco de la Nación, and there is a discount if it is paid in the same week of the violation. If there is any disagreement, insist on solving the problem at the nearest police station.