You hear lots of horror stories about driving in Africa – contending with cars, mopeds, cycles and animals. Riding down through France and then Spain, the driving changes from the rule abiding North European to the more free spirited Mediterranean style. The further south in Spain we went, the more relaxed the locals were to following the rules. Heading into Morocco, this is notched up a gear.
Types of vehicle
- Petit taxi’s (3 passenger taxi’s) are like coloured wasps, swarming around all of the cities. The colour is a regional choice (tan, red and blue). The fleet is mostly made of Dacia Sandero’s, with some Peugeots and other city cars. For non-Moroccans, these is a significant tourist surcharge which can be hard to reduce: For a local it’s 30MAD (£2.50/$4.00) in a shared taxi from Marrakech to Ourika, compared to 200MAD (£17/$30) for tourists). They are unpredictable, filling in any gaps at traffic lights before the mopeds get there and darting to the curb if there is the chance of a fare. For a fee, and on the understanding the additional person keeps their head down, they have been known to take more than 3 passengers…
- Roundabouts: If the roundabout has a give-way or stop sign on the entrance, the roundabout will act as a normal (to UK) roundabout. If these is no sign, ‘priority a droite’ rules with those on the roundabout needing to give way to those wanting to enter. This is sometimes superseded by traffic lights or stop signs on the roundabout to add some variety.
- Hand signals: Car, bus and lorry drivers will give the smallest of gesture to indicate that they will let you pull out, cross in front or overtake. As a pedestrian, this can make crossing the road much quicker, if you can spot the gesture!
- Passing other vehicles: If you want to pass the vehicle in front, toot your horn and more often than not, the vehicle in front will drift to the verge to allow you to pass. The horns fitted to Moroccan cars, mopeds and busses are apologetic and not the aggressive tone of lorries. If you are lucky, they will give a small hand gesture, or indicate to the kerb. You need to be aware of overtaking vehicles coming the other way, as they may be on your side of the road.
- Road position: Lorries, coaches and large SUV’s own the fast lane. Mopeds, cyclists, motorcycle-trucks, pedestrians, hand carts and donkeys are allowed onto the right lane but are expected to be submissive to the vehicles in the fast lane.
- Tooting your horn: It is no exaggeration that i have used my horn more in the first month in Morocco, than i have in the last 10 years. The horn toot is a short and friendly notification, not a long and pronounced aggressive shout. You can use your horn to indicate the following:
- notify another driver than you are here
- ask another driver to allow you to pass
- allow a vehicle to pull out
- tell a driver than they have not seen a green light
- ask another driver to stop blocking the road/path
- Headlamps: These drain your battery, so should only be used for flashing other vehicles and not used for prolonged periods at night. To save power, at most only one of each type of light should be working.
- Checkpoints: There are regular checkpoints with medieval looking tyre puncture chicanes to slow the drivers down. They target all vehicles to check papers and cargo. The senior policeman is often sitting under a beech umbrella with his subordinates doing the work.
- Junctions: The policemen appear board and look on at the carnage occurring at roundabouts and junctions. They are often chatting on their mobile phones to relieve the boredom. Sometimes they blow their whistle, but i have not seen this have any visible impact.
- Pedestrian crossing supervisor: Only spotted in Ouarzazate, they tried in vain to help pedestrians cross the road and stop cars from blocking the thoroughfare.