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Bermudian Drivers

Anyone who’s spent any real time in Bermuda knows that most of the drivers come under two distinct categories, those that can’t drive and those that can’t see. That last statement isn’t strictly true but it may as well be judging on how most of the natives handle their vehicles. I use the word “most” very carefully as I know a number of Bermudians who are actually pretty good drivers but unfortunately they appear to be in the minority.

Drink driving’s a big thing in Bermuda. Again, it’s almost a Bermudian right: a cultural thing, just like road death. The legal limit for drink driving in Bermuda is the same as the UK, 80mg per 100ml of blood. Unfortunately drink driving doesn’t carry much of a penalty and it’s also not a criminal offence. So coupled with having the highest per square mile density of traffic in the world, Bermuda also has the highest road death rate per square mile in the world.

Ninety nine percent of the roads in Bermuda would be classed as “country roads” or single carriageway and the majority of the 37 miles of roads are twisty with lots of blind corners. The official speed limit in Bermuda is 35km per hour. Yes, you read that right, 35km per hour which equates to about 21.75mph. This is a ridiculously low limit for a motor vehicle but when you see the quality of the driving in Bermuda you begin to understand the logic. Not surprisingly, a number of drivers tend to travel at the “unofficial” speed limit of 60kph. However, there are still a good proportion of those that won’t even contemplate going faster than the speed limit and stick to a couple of kmh less than the limit just to be on the safe side. It’s highly common to see car drivers slow down to 20km/h to take a corner that an 80 year old paraplegic driving a car made of spam could happily handle at 80kph. What’s even funnier is that even at 20kph, a large percentage of these drivers will still manage to cross the centre line regardless of the size of the car. Some will even stop in the middle of the road because they’ve decided to stop and talk to a friend that they’ve spotted at the side of the road. True.

All cars in Bermuda are either private cars or taxis so it’s not possible to rent a car on the island. The only motorised method of transport that a visitor can rent is a scooter or moped. These are predominantly of the 50cc variety with push chair sized wheels so the handling can be quite interesting. By law, no one can drive a bike that’s greater than 150cc, so it’s not uncommon to see (or hear!) bikes customised to draw out every last horsepower available for the relatively small engine. Obviously, most of those are driven by youths or twenty somethings who’ve got nothing better to spend their money on. You haven’t seen Bermudian driving at its best until you’ve witnessed, or nearly been hit by, a scrawny teenager hurtling down the centre of the road (the third lane) while texting their friends, it truly is a sight to behold.

The use of the third lane is a Bermudian right, a part of the culture if you will. As a child’s coming of age approaches, a number of Bermudian schools are at pains to attempt to train these soon-to-be-drivers how to use the road correctly. Some die-hard parents have other ideas though and insist to their children that “of course it’s ok to use the third lane, it’s your birthright”. As a result of this attitude, third land usage has developed into an almost black art by Bermudian youngsters in search of as close to a spiritual experience as you can get. All too often though, the use of the third lane turns into a real spiritual experience when they collide with another 9th Dan third lane practitioner or one of the many kamikaze bus drivers that patrol the Bermudian highways with a recklessness abandon that transcends even the deathwish teens.

As Forrest Gump’s mother told him: “life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get”. This phrase holds true when it comes to the bus drivers of Bermuda, a more eclectic mix of attitudes and characters you will not meet. Buses are the main mode of public transport in Bermuda, for a very reasonable $55 you can have the run of the island for a month. During peak times, buses run every 15 minutes covering the length and breadth of the island so there’s a lot of “professional” bus drivers kicking about on the island and because of that, no two journeys are the same. Some drivers are incredibly laid back, possibly even doped up, and will happily tootle along the road at a steady 30kmh. Most of those drivers are older and appear to know the whole island by name! At the opposite end of the spectrum are the rabid, childless, sexless, stressed, female bus drivers, probably in their 30s some with 4 or 5 inch painted nails who warp, barely visible, through Bermuda. Hold on tight when they’re driving and if you’re unfortunate enough to be an oncoming biker who’s sailed a little too close to the centre line at a corner when they’re coming, you’d better pray for a world class surgeon. I was on the receiving end of the wrath of one of those deathmaidens when on one Saturday morning, I dared to attempt to take a medium sized box on her pride and joy. She didn’t even wait for me to get to the bus – she saw me standing at the bay and stormed out screaming “You’re not bringing that on my bus!”. I was advised by the dispatcher to get a taxi, which would have cost me $20, so, being Scottish, I left the box with the shop, went home and bungeed it to my 50cc Suzuki deathtrap to avoid paying for a taxi.

All content (c) 2008-2012 Mark Gallagher