Travelers should be aware that DR is said to have some of the highest accident, fatality rates in the world involving mostly locals but not excluding tourists as passengers/drivers in modes of resort/public/private transportation involving autos/cycles/boat craft. Needing transport is inevitable; especially for independent travelers. These warnings/precautions will help make your vacation a safe one:
As a whole, the Dominican population are very reckless, agressive drivers. Alcohol consumption's also a large part of local culture; assume that Driving While Intoxicated is, too! Practice ultra-defensive driving skills at all times keeping well below "guessable" speed limits and avoid needing to drive anywhere in Santo Domingo.
"All-Inclusive" does not mean risk free. Resort guests also need to be on guard for hazadous conditions/situations when using resort transportation.
Excursion groups are sometimes placed in the back of flat-bed trucks and jostled over extremely rough terrain.
Horseback riding and 4-wheel dirt bike (helmets required) groups usually follow along secondary roads where locals drive.
Water safety risks are not as common, but certainly present.
If you should need safety assistance, let one of the local guides know. While you may think they're out to kill you, remember it's just a MAJOR gap between cultural lifestyles and personal safety comfort zones.
Resorts often rent cars, jeeps, cycles that independent travelers collect directly from the airport. Keep in mind they're some of the highest daily rental rates in the world for a reason! Take time to familiarize yourself with the fine print of insurance coverage as well as specific, detailed instruction on what you should do, who you should call if experiencing roadwise difficulty or are involved in an accident. Also, unless the auto is new, don't expect seat belts!
The DR's highway system is growing/improving, but it's likely secondary roads you'll be needing. They're also the ones that present the most problems. Massive chug-holes abound even in streets of the capital. Coupled with rough terrain and many unpaved roads - flat tires are inevitable!
Before taking a mode of transport out, or at the start of every day, check to see that the spare is fully inflated; not leaking, too. When a flat does occur, NEVER stop along side of highways/roads even if there is a shoulder! Drive until you have a safe clearing, then change the flat. Tire shops are commonly found, inexpensive. Stop at the first one you see...and hope it's before you've had a second flat!
The largest percentage of fatalities occur to drivers/passengers riding mopeds/dirt bikes/motorcycles. There is no helmet law in DR. Also consider adjustments to riding on rocky dirt roads rather than pavement. Also keep these issues in mind when considering taking frequently available motoconchos/motorcylce taxis.
Unless within a resort complex, AVOID taking to the open road after dark as a driver/passenger with any mode of transport. Livestock in the middle of roads/highways are common. Many Dominican modes of transport don't have headlights. Plan outings to be finished early with time to fully return before dark. As if to indicate risks, forms of public transportation stop running fairly early; cab rates doubling after dark.
Walking is also not always a safe, risk-free bet. Crossing streets/intersections can be hazardously tricky. And if you're ever stranded, broken down or have cause to be out walking after dark, let sound - not light be your guide.
Along roadways, it is common practice for locals to flag down public transportation. Be mindful that vans, buses and other vehicles stop suddenly, frequently blocking major roadways. Don't tailgate!
If you're invovled in the slightest accident, as the perceived "wealthy tourist" be prepared to assume full responsibility/liability for what occurred regardless of fault. Make sure you can immediately produce driver's license, passport and tourist card when asked; passengers included. Remain calm. Unless serious injury has occured, immdediate attention will be given to sorting out accident details. If staying at a resort, request to notify them ASAP! Independent travelers should do the same with the agency they rented from.
Follow "What to do" instructions I suggested you pay close attention to. It's also wise to have the number of your country's embassy available. Be advised that jail time is a possibility until fines, fees, damages are paid.
*As a caucasian American, I also run these risks should an acident occur while simply riding in/on a mode of transport driven by one of my local friends.
While I've never experienced this, I've heard tell of cases where police pull over tourist driven vehicles to collect "road taxes". (Never heard of anything more than 200 pesos/$12.50 demanded) Yes, officers are multi-lingual. Hear them out, give them what they want, keep your mouth shut, go on your way.
Their country - their rules! Actually, many with positions of autority, i.e. park rangers, proclaimed land owners, airport assistants, have been known to supplement meager incomes collecting "taxes/fees".
MONEY TALKS! It can also buy YOUR way passed guards, front desk clerks, anyone to get what you want/need.
**Transportation Safety needs are also discussed in my Paradise Lost Free Form entry.