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When I'm not writing about my experiences in this journey called 'life', I'm singing and uploading my own interpretations of modern music. Click on "Cover Songs" to hear them, or on the YouTube logo on the right to see my YouTube channel.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Driving Me Insane: Why Driving In Sri Lanka Is Crazy

I love driving. Always have, and I was surprised when I met some people who actually said they didn't enjoy it. I still remember when I turned 18, one of the first things I did was to ask Dad to teach me to drive. Fairy tale that this isn't, he said 'no'.

Needless to say, I was crushed. But soon he relented and sent me for driving lessons, which basically involved cramping myself into the drivers seat of those tiny mini-vans, and cruising around the lake at no greater than 40kmph. It was hopelessly monotonous; I was more likely to die from boredom than anything vehicle related, with the only 'excitement' so to speak coming from reversing into a lane that was wide enough to accommodate a small house.

(Oh did I mention my instructor was a one eyed, one legged man who had driven cabs in Germany? I kid you not; how he managed to convince anyone that he was able to teach people to drive with a wooden leg and a glass eye, God only knows.)

Long story short - I got my license, and soon I was driving. Within minutes, I discovered that nothing I learned during my so-called 'lessons' was of any use to me in the real world! Buses hurtling towards you, reckless overtaking, annoying three-wheelers, psychotic motor bikes - where were they during my tranquil rides around the Kandy lake?! And who is teaching these maniacs to drive??

So , in the interests of keeping our future generations alive just a little longer, I have listed out four things we need to teach all drivers from now on, regardless of vehicle type.

1. Bus drivers - you are not driving a Ferrari.

Somehow, bus drivers around the country are under the impression that their extremely large mode of transport is actually a small, sprightly two-seater sports car, complete with sharp cornering and precise steering. This is unfortunate, because you and I know that this is far from the truth. Yet, bus drivers around the country can be seen boldly throwing their vehicles around corners, wrestling them around other vehicles while barrelling down against the oncoming traffic, confident that their bus can somehow zip back in front before destroying the panic stricken driver headed its way.

Clearly, this needs to stop.We can't have these lumbering machines flying along our already too-narrow roads when they should be sanely chugging along in their lanes. The problem is, a bus driver, no matter how delusional and wrong, is still driving a bus! Which means it takes some guts to actually try to start something with a bus that's hurtling towards you like some metal meteor.

My solution consists of two parts. First, we train bus drivers in mini vans, around the Kandy lake, preferably with a one eyed instructor with a wooden leg. Mislead them into thinking that all buses need to be driven like this dinky 800cc Daihatsu. Brain wash them into thinking the speed limit is 39kmph. I guarantee those puppies will not only be more sane, they'll reduce the highway death toll ten fold. Part two, should part one fail? Counselling. Clearly, bus drivers are nothing more than frustrated children in adult bodies, acting out every males youthful fantasy of being able to speed in a high powered vehicle for a living. Heck, if I were a bus driver, I'd probably take refuge in that delusion too. So why not indulge them, and offer a weekly drive in a supercar around a local race track, free of cost, so they can get all their frustration out once and for all.

2. Three wheel drivers - you can't overtake on the left.

What is up with these three-wheelers? Who taught them that overtaking on the left is 'the right thing to do'? It's bad enough that driving in traffic is stressful and dangerous; now we have these multi-coloured fairies trying to mount the pavement and pass us on the left!

Dear Tuk-tuk - it can only end badly for you
It can't be just an evolved art though, because these guys have got it down to a science. First, they keep within striking distance of your vehicle, waiting for the next road block, traffic light, or any sort of blockage in the traffic. As soon as the vehicle in front starts slowing down, you can see them slowly creep towards the rear left of the vehicle. Now, given most people's impatience in these situations, the odds are that the vehicle in front will try to inch to the right, to have a peek down the road to see what's the hold up, and whether he/she can overtake. This is the three-wheel drivers moment to strike. They deftly squeeze their little death-trap on wheels into that tiny space you've so generously opened up, and as the traffic starts moving suddenly you find yourself stuck in no man's land. Your only options are to a) let him pass so you can slip behind me or b) be hung out to dry in oncoming traffic. [Option c) is to 'pull a GTA on him and ram the little maggot', but I'd never endorse that.]

Solution? Believe it or not, it's actually 'patience'. Whenever I notice one of these guys trying to pull this stunt I make sure I never give up my position behind the vehicle in front of me. If they do try to squeeze by you, never let them rejoin the line. Just stick bumper-to-bumper with the vehicle in front and watch them spaz out at you for driving legally. Totally worth it.

3. Those white lines on the road mean something.

I cannot count the number of times I have driven down a two- or three-lane road, watching the vehicle in front of me veer between lanes like it's part of some weird form of vehicular 'Pong'. Did they really think the lines painted on the road were for decorative purposes?! The two most annoying instances of this is when you're travelling quickly on the main roads, only to find that the vehicle in front of you on the right-most lane, (which is usually where the quicker vehicles travel,) is crawling. This means either you stick behind it, or switch to the next lane and get stuck behind another slow vehicle. This makes no sense to me; if you're travelling so slowly, why not just move over and let the quicker vehicles pass? But no, we're forced to pretend we're in some sort of moving maze, dodging from lane to lane to get ahead. Then of course there are those that blindly drive between both lanes, which leads drivers behind them to also break out of formation, and soon you have a disorganised mass of vehicles jostling for position on the highway.

Seriously people; the lines on the ground! Look at them!! How hard can it be to figure out what speed you want to travel at, and stick to the appropriate lane? Of course, this is something that isn't really taught in driving school here since instructors rarely, if ever, take their pupils on an actual highway to teach them these simple basics. "The highway?", they tell themselves; "Why would they ever drive on those?".


4. Dip your damn lights!

Driving during the day is dangerous in Sri Lanka. Driving at night is near suicidal.

Thanks to the poorly lit streets and 'highways' in the country, I can understand why people would want to use their head beams to illuminate as much of the road ahead as possible. However, doing so at the cost of the oncoming driver's eyesight is - to put it mildly - a tad insensitive.

It's bad enough that we have to contend with a) near invisible pot holes b) random pedestrians jumping on the road at the last minute and c) black dogs/cows/elephants that are invisible to the human eye at night (I swear, it's almost like they absorb light) while driving; how in the world are we supposed to drive at all when you have your lights in my eyes?? You see me flashing my headlights at you?? That isn't some friendly signal!! Take the hint and dip 'em!

I envy my dad's vehicle; he's installed super powerful fog lights on it expressly for these kind of drivers. Any time he sees an oncoming vehicle that fails to comply to these unwritten courtesies, he 'gives him a dose of his own medicine' and powers them up. Trust me, if you get caught in those you'd probably think it was the second coming and you were being raptured.

So there you have it; the top four that I could come up with. Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments. Meanwhile, drive safely!


Cadence said...

It's not that I dislike driving, more like I loathe it with every single fibre of my being. I'd rather not go somewhere rather than drive myself.

I drive purely for functional purposes - To get me to work and back home. Anything more, the hub drives. He once suggested I drive instead of him and he near got a Medusa stare. The only exception I make is when we have a night on the town, for obvious reasons. I become the designated driver for the rest then.

I've learnt to use the horn liberally and this generally works. Sometimes I just take a deep breath when I encounter morons. Have been guilty of point number 4 but unintentionally of course, and I do know the highway lingo so I dip when an oncoming vehicle signals.

Point number 3 - EVERYONE overtakes from the left. It's not just limited to the tuks.

I have to drive an hour fifteen mins to work one way - for 5 days. *Groan*

(Clearly the length of this comment shows how much I hate driving)

The Puppeteer said...

1. Buses are the worst! They cut from one side of the road to the other during rush hour like there's no other vehicle on the road! It's insane...
They have to enforce the law in which buses stick to one lane.

2. I've noticed that since of recent I've given into the threewheelers. There's just no winning...

3. I hear ya! This is especially true for vehicles leaving Colombo after 5pm and you're coming in. Worst is when those ENORMOUS cargo lorries do it. Scary.

4. And that pisses me off the most. How selfish can these people get? And they aren't helping themselves by blinding us! What if we swerve into them?
I do the same as your dad- switch the fog lights on those drivers.

Another problem is the white lights. While the yellow ones are bearable to some extent, the white light is completely disorienting and I see spots once the vehicle passes.

I interviewed the DIG of Traffic admin a few months ago and he said they were going to make white lights illegal; I hope they get on that soon.

I'd written a post about driving in SL sometime back too- http://messiahofmadness.wordpress.com/2010/11/20/hell-is-a-place-on-earth/

PP said...

i hate driving in the traffic with a passion, but on the other hand, i find driving on non-crowded roads with music to singalong to, to be quite therapeutic :)

1) i have the pleasure of driving in and out of work on the same road as most of the long distance buses ie, on the baseline and then the kandy road. these guys are the worst (though when i get to the tuks and bikes i will tell you they are the worst). i've learnt the trick with them is to stand your ground and sit on your horn (not literally of course). quite a nerve wracking thing to do when you're pitting a 800cc maruti with a ashok leyland, but it works. most of the time. what irks me most about them is how they swing from their lane into the next the moment they want to overtake someone, usually another bus or heavy vehicle. i've always wanted to stop near a traffic cop, roll my shutter down and complain about idiot bus drivers opening up illegal third lanes on the kandy road.

2) i do that thing too, sticking bumper to bumper with them and eventually pushing them out of the lane. works with the buses too. the thing with overtaking on the left is, sometimes when you have an idiot going at 20 kmh in front of you and refuses to move no matter how much you horn, you just have to do it.

3) oh god, yes! it's like the lines are not there at all. i've noticed that it's worse out station. the worst is when people actually stick to their lanes and some idiot (usually in a tuk tuk) notices the space between the lanes of vehicles and creeps between and another idiot decided to follow.

4) the kandy road again, is the worst for this because there's nothing except a bunch of little ridges to separate traffic going either way, there are no streetlights in the the middle of the road and there are idiot pedestrians crossing from all over. there are also idiots who come from behind you with their headlights on. once it was so bad i had to get behind the idiot and give him a taste of his own medicine.

Blissfully Ignorant* said...

LOVE this post. So very true. Great writing! :D

Gehan said...

Cadence - I'm sort of surprised that you feel that way about driving. For some reason I pictured you as someone who would enjoy it! Can't blame the husband for trying though, I mean, if you have a wife might as well make use of her....

I'm just kidding..! lol

The Puppeter - I think you're talking about the Xenon lights, which are definitely much brighter than halogens. However, I think the DIG is taking the typical Sri Lankan route of avoiding the trouble it takes to educate people. You can't ban them, and yes while they do produce more glare for oncoming traffic, modern car headlights are designed so that on low beam, the light on the side of the oncoming traffic is a few degrees lower. Of course, on high beam there is no change. Simple education and etiquette will solve that though, that is all.

PP - Indeed, I love driving, and even though driving in traffic can be frustrating, it somehow evens out when I get to drive on a good stretch of road. As for the Kandy road, definitely, the stretch up to Nittambuwa is pretty horrible with the trucks and buses!

About the headlights from behind; agreed, extremely annoying and distracting! Most cars have the 'night' switch on their mirror though, which you can flick to temporarily bend the mirror to reflect light away from your eyes. Of course, you lose your rear view for that time, but at night it's worth it.

Blissfully Ignorant* - Thank you very much! Keep reading!

INK said...

Ah! Driving in Colombo my boy, believe me, is all about patience and ignorance. Trust me! I have been driving for nearly twenty years and when you drive this long you become immune to all this. I can tell you stories of my encounters while driving in Colombo till your hair grows grey!!

Yamille said...

Hey awesome post. Love it. And you have not taken the usual route and blamed women drivers for everything :-) So, as a brave female driver let me state a perspective. Yes, we are not genetically programmed to drive like men - Most women drivers quiver at the thought of reversing, or parallel parking and shudder at the hurtling, abuse hurling male drivers who taunt us unmercifully. No female driver should ever overtake a male driver - even by mistake. For she will be chased after, with much swearing and roaring of engines and dutifully overtaken - this has happened to me many times. Now it has become a favourite pastime of mine to 'try' to overtake male drivers - safely of course. :-D Let me not veer off course, but tell you that I enjoyed this post very much indeed. Keep writing the good stuff.

Gehan said...

INK - I don't doubt it. Luckily a lot of my driving is in the (relatively) calm hills of Kandy.

Yamille - Well, we can't blame them for everything..

As for the women overtaking the men, that sounds like an interesting phenomenon! I try to get a female friend to simulate that and see what happens..

Thank you for your kind words, and keep reading!

Gadgetgirl said...

as a frequent passenge of the 176, the moment i lift my leg to press it on the footboard, and no sooner i arrive at the halt i wonder if this was some survival after bungee jumping without the safety belts.

Dulan said...

And you forget the Three Wheeler races. It's one of the saddest and frustrating sights for a driver to come across.

Two of these little engines being driven beyond capacity, trying to overtake each other while blocking all the vehicles behind (and creating the traffic in the first place), only to find themselves travelling at the same speed....

I totally understand why Carmageddon was such a popular game.

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