Here on St. Croix we do, in fact, drive on the left. Some historians believe that driving on the left was a custom carried over from the horse and buggy days, and no one ever bothered to change it. Some say in the Danish West Indies (now the USVI), since many British expats controlled a large part of the land based vehicles used for trade and commerce, and they brought their left-side-of-the-road customs with them. Whatever the case may be, life in the left lane has some challenges, but there is also some polite Crucian driving etiquette that makes it easier to adjust.
Even though we drive on the left, nearly all the vehicles on the island have left side steering columns because they come from the U.S. mainland. In my opinion, this makes it easier to adjust to driving on the island because you are already comfortable with the layout of the automobile itself – you just drive in the other lane. Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of it quickly because most of the roads are only two lanes. Traffic travels at a slow to moderate pace due to the condition of the roads and numerous curves, so most often people are not in a hurry. If you are renting a car, there is usually a sticker on the inside of the windshield to remind you to keep left. You will also find that the popular tourist maps of the island, as well as many road signs (especially in resort or tourist areas) will remind you to keep left. When I moved to St. Croix I was told a great way to remember to stay left is to: ‘Keep your shoulder to the [road] shoulder’. If all else fails, put a sticky note on the dashboard to remind yourself to stay in the left lane.
Crucian Courtesy (Honking Isn’t Always Bad)
Unlike other places I have traveled to in the Caribbean, Crucians tend to be courteous drivers. The honk of a horn on St. Croix is almost always a ‘hello’ or an ‘I am giving you the right-of-way to pull out’. Coming from a State known for road rage, this was a little confusing at first. Just remember that if you are trying to pull out onto the road and someone stops and honks, or flashes their lights or waves at you, it generally means they are yielding to let you pull out in front of them. Be kind in return and give a little honk back to say ‘thanks’ or give them a courtesy wave as you pass by, it’s the polite thing to do. Since there are not a lot of stop lights, and the roads are only two lanes, at certain times of day you may have to sit for awhile before you can get out of a driveway or make a turn. So, remember to pay it forward with thesame Crucian courtesy!
Unfortunately, the roads here on St. Croix are not well maintained. When you are driving watch carefully for potholes, especially since some are big enough to swallow your car! You may also encounter unmarked one-way streets, very narrow two-ways streets, lack of lane striping, lack of traffic and street signs, and pedestrians due to the lack of sidewalks. Some unpaved mountain roads require four-wheel drive, and there are some drainage ditches that cross the paved roads in the rainforest. You will also see animals crossing the road (iguanas, deer, mongoose,chickens, goats, donkeys, etc.) and they don’t tend to look both ways before crossing. Also, look out for pedestrians, and cars whose driver’s forget to keep left. For all of these reasons, it is important to keep to a slow speed and watch for road hazards. To avoid collisions on hairpin turns in hilly and mountainous areas, it is recommended that you stay as far left as possible and slow down to about 10 mph.
Rules & Regulations
There are a few other important things to keep in mind while driving here on St. Croix. A valid U.S. or foreign license is accepted for driving on St. Croix, but you must be 21 or older to rent a vehicle. As for laws, first and foremost you must wear your seat belt. Secondly, it is illegal to talk or text on your cell phone while driving (not to mention dangerous), so please pull over in a safe location if you need to use your cell phone. Lastly, please do not drive while intoxicated or under the influence. The roads can be tricky to navigate even for the best of drivers, so don’t put yourself or anyone else in unnecessary risk.
While there are a lot of things to remember and pay attention to while driving here on St. Croix, most of them are obvious and you will get comfortable driving here surprisingly quickly. I highly recommend that you do rent a car and drive around the island, not only will it expand the options of the things you can do, but the many of the drives themselves are beautiful and scenic. As you drive around you will want to able to pull over and take pictures or just cruise slowly and enjoy the view.
– Jennie Ogden, Editor