How to Drive in Sri Lanka

by Apr 30, 2016South Asia, Sri Lanka1 comment

After a few days here we think we’ve got our heads around the local approach to road safety so here’s our completely accurate, not at all tongue-in-cheek guide on how to drive in Sri Lanka. 

Lanes and road markings

There are useful road markings including lines that indicate where the lanes are that cars should drive in. Ignore all of these. If you fit in a space then drive there. If you don’t fit in a space then drive there AND hit your horn repeatedly. Three cars can fit in one lane if you really try hard.

Change lanes often. You should never spend more than 20 seconds in the same lane.

If possible try straddling two lanes with the line in the middle. This maximises your lane choice options when an intersection comes up.

When changing lanes, try to do it when another car is already in that lane next to you. This asserts your cars dominance over the other cars but refer to the collision guide below if they don’t submit immediately.

.What to do if you are going to hit another car

Will you definitely hit the car on your current course?

If no then relax and speed up. If yes then hold your horn down AND speed up.

Did the other car start hitting its horn too?

If yes then hit yours some more and speed up. If no then just speed up.

Are you still definitely going to hit the other car?

If no, relax and speed up. If yes then first check if your car is bigger; if it is then speed up and try and hit the other car. If it isn’t, hit your horn some more but only brake at the last possible second (think of it like a game of chicken – you should be within an inch or two maximum). You should have good brake pads installed. This brake pad buyers guide will help you choose those that ensure the best performance.

Meanwhile, try and hit as many pedestrians and cyclists as you can. They are stealing your road space. They usually move out of the way quickly but if not then they should bounce off the car easy enough without slowing your journey down.


Other cars may try to cross in front of you at intersections – try and avoid this by speeding up beforehand.

If a car is stopped in front of you at an intersection then avoid breaking at all costs. If there is a curb then mount that and drive around the car or cross on to the other side of the road. Don’t let the other cars tell you when you have to stop.

Stop when you want to though. Break suddenly every now and then around intersections to discourage people from following you too closely.


Speed limits – these are the round signs with a number and kmph printed on them. They indicate the suggested speed you should drive but you should use these as a loose guide only. Feel free to go 20-50 kph faster even when passing a police car.

No Parking – Feel free to park if there is a spare bit of road especially if you’re in a tuk tuk.

Flammable – some vehicles like petrol tankers will be carrying a Flammable sign. If your vehicle has one of these then drive as fast as you can and the other cars will (usually) move out of your way.

Other Useful Tips

The mirrors on the side of the car and at the top of the windscreen are decorative pieces and can also be used to check your own reflection.

If your phone rings, immediately answer it amd ignore the road whilst talking. Loud honking and crashes will let you if the road needs your attention again. Leave one hand on the wheel if you need it. Make sure to answer any texts whilst on your phone to ensure maximum efficiency.

Only indicate at odd times like after having already pulled out in front of someone when they were passing you and only in the direction opposite to where you are heading. Always keep people guessing so they will pay attention.

Please follow all of the advice above otherwise driving may be hazardous.

*actually please ignore all of this advice but don’t be surprised if everyone else around you appears to be following it all carefully.