Jaywalking in Guatemala

As a visitor to Guatemala, I’ve often heard cautions from Guatemalans to be extra careful crossing the road because cars have the right of way and might run me over.  Although cars give very little regard to pedestrian safety, there doesn’t seem to be any laws against jaywalking.  Pedestrians jaywalk across any street or highway anywhere (at their own risk).  In the US, it is illegal to jaywalk, but it is also illegal for cars to run over pedestrians, so whenever a pedestrian does get in a street, cars tend to give them the right of way.

On my first visit to Guatemala in the early 1990s, I was waiting for a bus along a two-lane highway in a small town that lined the highway with small businesses on both sides and was bustling with pedestrians.  At one point I heard a semi-truck blaring on its air-horn and I looked up to see an old indigenous man slowly walking across the highway.  The semi was barreling down the highway towards the old man who seemed oblivious to the traffic at that moment.  The truck kept blaring its horn as it barrelled straight towards the man without slowing.  It didn’t swerve an inch and ran right into the man, tossing him into the air like a limp rag doll.

As his body flopped down on the gravel along the side of the road, the truck stopped blaring its horn, but it otherwise kept driving down the road like nothing had happened. Nobody chased after the truck and no police ever showed up.  It was the only time I’ve seen someone die right in front of my eyes.

A small group of bystanders immediately gathered around the dead man on the side of the road and a short time later someone came with a pickup truck and they loaded up his body and drove him away.  Someone told me that rural people died frequently in accidents like that because they weren’t used to seeing much traffic and the traffic that they did encounter in their rural areas couldn’t drive much faster than walking speed anyway because the dirt roads are so badly potholed.

When they encounter the new highways where cars drive at ungodly speeds, they are as unprepared for how to react as a deer caught in headlights and some drivers don’t give them any more respect than deer. That has caused collisions between modern urban Guatemalans and the traditional rural world.


Posted in Development, Public Finance

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