Unwritten rules of the road

By Ardie O. Lopez Philippine Daily Inquirer January 16,2019

For a lot of people, there’ll be a new car this year, more than we’d like to realize and acknowledge.

With roughly half a million new vehicles sold in the country last year, to say its impact on road safety will be felt, is a gross understatement.

As the number of vehicles rise, so will the corresponding number of accidents as well. It’s inevitable, but information is key to prevention, if we’re to make a positive dent on its figures.

For neophyte drivers, and even those who’ve been behind the wheel for a considerably long time but haven’t really had the benefit of explicit “extra-curricular” driving instruction (i.e., the things rarely taught in driving schools), they’ll be learning about it the hard way.

You see, in most parts of the Philippines especially in Manila, along with the worsening of traffic, the driving behavior of the general public has regressed by so much that to come home at the end of a workday unscathed is a feat in itself.

One has to understand the prevailing psyche of the typical Pinoy driver; not just the ones who drive public utility vehicles, but mainly Mr. Juan, the majority.

As individuals outside the confines of our motorized carriages’ cabins, we strive to be morally upright, polite, law-abiding and generous people, as our parents, teachers, and other role models have taught us one way or another.

But our idealistic principles will unavoidably be tested, adjusted, compromised, and for some, totally swept under the floor mats once we’re buckled-in behind the steering wheel.

With the exception of Subic Bay and most gated subdivisions’ roads, it’s virtually “wild west on wheels” out there.

Newbie drivers will be the ones who’ll benefit from this article the most, but it also may provide some relief to those who’ve been jaded and hardened by driving daily in Manila (and similar cities) for years on end, who’ve noticed the substantial increase of crappy drivers over the recent years.

I’m no expert, but I believe 35 years of driving experience in Manila puts a bit of qualification on the hood. Here’s what I’ve gathered so far:

Stand your ground, but be able to tell in an instant, when it’s not worth it.

Newbies, your driving instructors, and parents/significant others will hate me for saying this. Defensive driving is ideal, but there are limited situations where it’s applicable.

Usually, textbook defensive driving can be dangerous, since keeping “proper” distance, being a stickler to holding your lane, and keeping a safe distance all around your vehicle, will prod the majority of drivers to drive around you, and get as far away from you as possible.

It’ll also gradually push you to the tail end of the traffic, and make you end up arriving to your destination at almost twice the time it normally takes.

In most cases, “going with the flow” is the rule of thumb to follow. The prevailing style of driving in Manila unfortunately is based on subtle intimidation.

With PUVs, it isn’t subtle at all, but setting them as examples, you’ll get my drift.

Standing your ground means maintaining a short enough distance between your car and the one you’re tailing—close enough so that those flanking you won’t be able to cut in, forcing you to brake suddenly and/or swerve to avoid them as they push you off your lane.

Know that no matter if traffic is moving, there will always be someone who’ll want to rudely cut in at the slightest opportunity.

Know what a proper overtaking maneuver from others is like, and by all means give way as you see fit. But if you’re familiar with adaptive cruise control, then that’s what you should be emulating on a normal to crawling traffic flow, as this is where everyone’s jostling for space.

This requires you to be extra focused on your driving, so lower the volume of that stereo to a safe level, and just listen more to Waze rather than glancing at it.

Consciously dial up your situational and spatial awareness.

Try to be at peace with the fact that more often than not, a staggering percentage of drivers and motorcycle riders are ill-equipped when it comes to manners, proficiency in operating their vehicles, and knowledge of the rules of the roads (apart from what traffic lights mean).

Be more anticipatory and analytical with your driving style. If you’ll notice, more experienced disciplined drivers look farther ahead while driving, able to “read” and accurately plot where to position their cars safely, and to avoid traffic build-ups.

This entails smooth deceleration, acceleration and lane changing when the situation calls for it.

Be a step ahead, and learn the “body language” of the cars, especially PUVs for abrupt lane departures, signal-less turns, and sudden stops.

Sometimes, it’s a matter of spotting a passenger that hailed that cab or jeepney, and to know how to react in advance.

Spotting that slight twitch of the other car’s front wheels towards that open stretch you’re accelerating into, and having to just quickly tap on your horn to curtly let him know you’re staking claim on your right of way, and that it’ll be disruptive for him to go for it, would usually be enough.

Again, know when to back out. It’s worth learning the timing and honing your reflexes, for it will happen a lot more often than you’d like.

Your car’s horn, unfortunately, is a necessary tool that you’ll have to use sensibly, to be able to drive “normally” in the Philippines.

In time, you’ll learn how to say “I know what you’re up to, quit it”, and “You know I know you’re pretending you can’t hear this” effectively in horn language.

The horn is a preventive tool in city driving, against minor accidents, and against everyone “driving all over you.”

Of course, that doesn’t apply to most other countries.

Be wary of two wheelers. Regretfully, I’ll have to be blunt about this, and I know a lot of my motorcycle-riding friends and sensible riders will agree.

The increase in the number of motorcycle riders out there on a monthly basis is mind-blowing. And over 95 percent of them own and utilize underbones, scooters, etc. from small displacement motorcycles categories.

Responsible riders aside, more and more inexperienced, clueless and downright oafish riders out there continue to grow in numbers, and they not only pose a serious hazard to the motorcycle riding community, but to all vehicles on the roads as well.

Be aware that they filter through traffic everywhere, and anytime. When approaching your turn, signal and close the gap between your car and the curb well in advance so that no motorcycle can squeeze in at the last moment.

If you’re in a tight two-way two-lane road, and bikers are nudging you to go dangerously close to the curb, pedestrians, or the opposite lane, be deliberate about keeping your lane by staying smack-dab in the middle of it.

Remember that a bikers’ personal space is a lot smaller than yours, so let one in and you let a throng of bikers in, and you end up as the one getting squashed.

Give them the respect they’re due, and even an extra margin of safety around them, but only to a logical and justifiable degree.

I’ve learned that it’s not a resignation when dealing with the worsening driving situation on our roads; it’s about adaptation.

It’s by no means easy. I actually envy those who can nonchalantly shrug off everything I’ve written here and just drive through their daily commute as if it’s nothing. But to those—to us—who love driving, it’s quite an upsized pain in the neck.

Should this article make sense to you, please exercise extreme caution, and use sound judgment and proper discretion in following these unwritten rules of the road.

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