While some corporations utilize a secure transportation provider in Colombia for their staff (& Executives) or a security service provider with Executive Protection Agents or other escort services, there are organizations that employ a self-drive approach. This may be due to budget, their company risk tolerance, or other factors such as employee contract or job specification. At Black Mountain Solutions we always recommend that organizations as a minimum baseline standard use a secure transportation service in Colombia with vetted security drivers.
The following document is limited for readability, and by no means does it intend to cover all safety/security related risks to international travelers in Colombia, however the document does intend to demonstrate personal experiences that I have witnessed, and most importantly my opinions on where this could impact the safety of a self-driver.
A self-driver in this article refers to someone that is driving their own vehicle or a vehicle without the provision of Secure Transportation, VIP Executive Protection, or other Security Services Colombia.
Besides the frequent muggings using the modus operandi “two on a motorcycle” at traffic lights or other choke points where criminals use static vehicles to their advantage to carry out violent crimes, the following document intends to highlight other possibilities that could present danger to a self-driver. These may not always be direct threats, but as an example the driver become harmed as a consequence of an altercation between other road-users, example a “stray round” (AKA bullet, projectile, cartridge amongst other names).
Driving during dark hours in Bogota or any city in Colombia is by far the most stressful and higher risk time of the day to move around in. And not only from a security perspective, but a safety perspective also.
Often a safety related event could lead to a security related event. A perfect example of this could be a pothole. Not so much in the urban areas as the slow-moving traffic, or lower speed regulations may not permit, but moving towards the more rural areas outer-city, the chance of slamming into a pothole is much more likely.
Being stranded on the side of the road in Colombia during night time hours creates a risk in itself for being targeted of a violent crime. Often criminals carry out patrols on motorbikes looking for vulnerable victims.
For the following safety reasons, driving can become more difficult driving at night time in Colombia.
- Poor road conditions.
Potholes and deteriorated roads across Colombia are rampant. The situation is that problematic, that In Bogota alone, the government reported as having re-filled 37.000 (thirty-seven thousand) potholes between December 2022 & January 2023. The government even has an online platform in which citizens can report potholes to the local municipal administration.
- Lack of road lighting.
Illumination on the roads across Colombia (and its capital cities) can be poor or inadequate in some areas and complimented by driving vehicles with tinted windows as described in the next line, can significantly reduce one’s vision on the road.
- Tinted windows.
The use of tinted windows in Colombia I would agree is an absolute must, even-more for foreign travelers. As we are all aware, foreign travelers are often targets of crime due to the perception of being wealthier. Tinted windows obscure the vision of would be criminals looking into the vehicle from outside making it difficult to see the contents of the vehicle. However, driving whilst peering through tinted windows does slightly
obscure vision during dark hours. The current road regulations in Colombia permit windows to be of 70% transparency/30% opacity. More information can be reviewed on Regulation polarized windows Colombia.
- Driving etiquette.
Drivers in Colombia can often be perceived as being aggressive or erratic than in other parts of the world. Vehicles may overtake, maneuver without warning, disobey road regulations (run red lights, perform illegal turns, drive against direction of traffic) or sound their horn frequently. Not only may this cause a safety hazard on the road, but I have also been witness to many events of road rage. In some instances, with weapons being drawn.
- People crossing the road.
In Colombia people take much more chances crossing the road than they do in other parts of the world. Significant factors to this may be lack of road awareness (hazard perception) and demographics. Typically in Latin America, Cities populations can be co-located adjacent to major routes with fewer pedestrian crossings at their disposal. People crossing in unmarked areas presents a significant risk to self-drivers causing the driver to swerve, change lanes or perform a maneuver which puts themselves or others at risk. According to the Transportation Research Part F: Psychology and Behaviour 85 (2022) 259–275 In Colombia, 6,892 people died, and 36,832 were injured in traffic crashes in 2019. 25.3% (1,747) of the fatalities and 20.1% (7,417) of the injuries were related to pedestrians (National Institute Legal Medicine & Forensics Science 2020). Pedestrians also represented 25,35 % of the deceased and 20,14 % of the injured. The article also suggests that pedestrians may bypass designated footpaths, footbridges, or underpasses to save time and effort, or due to them being considered unsafe for personal security.
- Other road users (mostly motorbikes).
In Colombia its common to see transport types other than motor vehicles. This can include (not limited to) hand carts often utilized by homeless people looking for scraps to sell. It goes without saying that these vehicles would not have lighting and can present a risk if on the road. Even more-so during nighttime hours in areas where there is poor or inadequate illumination. Another significant risk on the road is drivers not utilizing their vehicle headlights or indicators before making a turn.
Recommendations for Self-drivers
- Avoid or limit any night time driving (where possible). Not only from a safety perspective but a security standpoint too. It’s a known fact that violent crimes tend to occur more frequently during dark hours.
- Utilize a secure transportation service. Black Mountain Solutions can support with Secure Transportation Colombia. Drivers are Bilingual, accustomed to the driving culture, security trained and understand the risks/threats faced by foreigners driving in Colombia.
- Attend a defensive driving course. Contact Black Mountain for more details Defensive Driving Training Colombia. Course is designed to demonstrate how to adopt a defensive driving approach to reduce both security/safety risks on the road.
- Consider an Armored Vehicle (budget dependent). Provides that additional protection at traffic lights/choke points when the vehicle is static and vulnerable to violent attacks.
- Travel with a partner. Lone travelers are often perceived as an easier target. Having a travel companion that can support in the event of an emergency and provide additional eyes on the road.
- Keep to the main roads. Generally speaking, main roads are more frequently used by other road users. This provides natural surveillance from other drivers which in itself can be an effective deterrent against criminals. Main roads are also generally better maintained by the state as they are used for transportation of goods and important to the country’s economy.
- Know the status of the roads. With the “El Niño” phenomenon (climate pattern) affecting the western hemisphere, Colombia is currently facing a weather crisis throughout the most of year with torrential rainfall and landslides across the country. Refer to INVIAS (National Road Institute) for updates on the status of highways. INVIAS
- Utilize a Low-Profile SUV type vehicle. Due to having a bigger wheel, larger frame, and increased height from the ground, larger vehicles are less susceptible to damage from potholes. These vehicle types are generally more robust against difficult terrain.
- GPS tracking. Allow the local authorities to pinpoint your location in the event of kidnap, road traffic incident or theft/robbery of your vehicle. GPS may also come with a panic button that can warn others that you are in distress.
- Do your research (Security Awareness Training). Knowing areas to avoid and do’s & don’ts in Colombia will dramatically reduce the risk of being targeted for a crime. Training will also equip drivers with the knowledge of how to prevent & manage risks, and how to react during an incident such as carjacking.
- Inform trusted person of your whereabouts with an estimated return time. Learn how to use “live location” on WhatsApp or other messaging platforms. Check in with family or friends at set times.
- Carry out vehicle checks (breakdown kit). Ensure your vehicle is serviceable (with sufficient fuel) before starting your journey. As mentioned previously, being stranded in Colombia on the side of the road during dark hours is not desirable and can present a massive safety & security risk. Laying out safety cones with reflective tape (or lights) are an absolute must to warn traffic from the rear. Colombian law National Transit Code Colombia (Spanish) states that the following contents are required to be in your vehicle:
- Vehicle jack
- Wheel spanner
- 2 x Triangle shaped warning signs
- A first Aid kit
- A fire extinguisher (for contents see National Transit Code)
- 2 x Wheel chocks
- Toolbox (for contents see National Transit Code)
- Spare Tire
Failure to meet road regulations can result in infractions and penalties.
- Trusted Mechanic on-call (or road assistance with car insurance). Depending on the severity of the vehicle issue, unless you are a mechanic, have extensive knowledge on the workings of a vehicle, it may be likely that you will need external support of a mechanic or a tow truck. There’s not much use searching google for a mechanic in the local area 10pm at night on a Friday. This would be time consuming and its not guaranteed the mechanic would even be trustworthy or not overcharge you. Have these relationships established in advance or understand the process for call out support with your designated insurance provider. Also, do not expect that the mechanic or support will be arriving within a timely manner. Appreciation of time in Colombia can be different to other countries.
- Have support locations & safe-havens planned out on route. Home could be a significant distance away, and you may be in unfamiliar territory or driving through a high-risk area. Knowing locations that you could possibly refuge-in during an emergency is important. Often public places with buildings such as hotels or restaurants where there is natural surveillance of the public, or areas with physical security such as CCTV and security guards are good choices. For long journeys have gas stations planned along the route.
- Sufficient battery for the Journey Car chargers or external portable chargers are good options. Also as mentioned above, knowing locations you could stop in the event of an emergency such as a petrol station to use somebodies’ phone, or charge your own phone.
Driving within Colombia can be an overwhelming experience for a foreigner whom is not accustomed to different driving cultures or adapted to other environments. I myself have been driving in Colombia for 12 years, and to this day I find it extremely stressful and exhausting. There are a profound number of risks from both a security & safety standpoint that have not been covered in this article. As mentioned above, while self-driving during nighttime hours is not recommended there are several steps one can take to reduce the chance of becoming involved in an unfortunate situation.
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Article written by Freddie Ellis, CPP (Director Black Mountain Solutions)