Driving Culture

Traffic in Port Harcourt

Traffic in Port Harcourt

While in America I had hired a car. Americans seem to ride more than drive and when the traffic stops they leave vast spaces between each car. They seem more tolerant of poor driving but this may be because they lack lane discipline. Cars weave between lanes without warning.

In Nigeria the driving style was to never give an inch to any other driver. I remember a journey crawling along a narrow street in Lagos approaching a crossroads. Once we reached the intersection every car was revving their engine madly and pushing forward  to gradually edge past the other cars which were all doing the same thing. Normally, in Nigeria, I had a driver but one Christmas I had to drive myself and determined to show Nigerians how it should be done. My plan was doomed from the start. I waited forlornly for someone to let me out into the moving traffic but if I had not abandoned my stupid idea and pushed my way out I would be waiting there to this day.

It is the same with the Nigerian corruption. It is all very well claiming moral superiority and deciding that you will pay no bribes but you will achieve nothing. One cannot eradicate corruption by example any more than one can force lane discipline on Americans by example. This is a lesson I believe should be understood by armchair stay at homes who lecture multinational companies on their behaviour in the developing world.

On occasions a Nigerian would become so frustrated by the lack of progress that he would emerge from his car and start directing traffic himself until his own driver was able to navigate the intersection at which point he would re-enter his car and leave the whole tangled mess behind him. I did this myself on several occasions and it gave one a great feeling of elation as one finally gained the open road and sped away into the hot night.

Another boon to Nigerian traffic control were the disabled. I vividly recall a one legged man who would stand on the podium provided for the permanently absent traffic police and direct the traffic with his crutch. As the traffic passed the drivers would sling him a handful of Naira.

bangkok traffic

bangkok traffic

A few years ago I drove across Bangkok in the rush hour. Starting around 5pm, I reached my destination by 9pm but on the wrong side of the road which was divided by a concrete barrier. I continued and, noticing that U-turns were prohibited, I turned left and then left again into a car park where I re-emerged and turned right back onto the correct side of the road. A traffic cop stopped me and accused me of making a U-turn. He explained that although I had not actually made a U-turn I had achieved the same result and had therefore broken the law. Unlike the British police he seemed to enforce the spirit of the law if not the letter of the law.

Back in the UK this morning I drove north on the M23 and, as the lanes merged into the A23, I indicated left but the other driver refused to let me in. My initial reaction was that the driver was an anally retentive moron but then I saw the driver was a woman. It is a fact that women do not let you in. I once knew a salesman who said that he never let cars pull out from side streets as it was a “a sign of weakness”. I don’t believe that the reason that women do not let you in is driven by this same insecurity but by a preoccupation with following the rules. If you have right of way, why should give it up?

Men (excluding salesmen) appear more cooperative when they drive. At the meeting of Woodean Drive and Dyke Road Avenue in Brighton each morning cars take turns to join the main road. This admirable cooperation is interrupted only by women and, presumably, salesmen. Perhaps this is related to Enoch Powell’s comment that women are not “clubable”.

I have heard that a study was carried out in the United States to test the effectiveness of the process for launching Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICMBs) and that the test provided that the launch technicians believed that they were initiating a real nuclear missile launch. It was found that women would always launch the missiles as they had been instructed but that a percentage of men would refuse. The men would fall back on their own reasoning and decide that since all they could achieve was wholesale murder there was no point in proceeding. I have heard that more women in the UK support the introduction of capital punishment than men.

It is interesting that my reaction on seeing that the driver who failed to let me in was a woman was to dismiss the incident whereas I would have continued to feel aggravated if the driver had been a man. I guess this is related to some kind of male competition.

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