One of the most frightening experiences of my life was in Delhi during a trip to India when our taxi driver began driving on the wrong side of the road into oncoming traffic, which not only included fast cars and trucks but also, unbelievably, a herd of buffalo walking along the curb towards us.
It was like a scene from a comedy, with my girlfriend and me shrieking and covering our eyes; she was praying. We got to our destination alive due to one important factor. After we’d been in India for a while we noticed that drivers often drive on the wrong side of the road — only when it suits them, of course.
Because most of them do it from time to time, no one is alarmed when they see a driver coming towards them. They just swerve casually and make way.
From my travels, I’ve realised you can tell a lot about the psyche of any culture by the way people drive.
In India they follow the dictum: “Hope for the best but expect the worst.” Which is sadly reflected in the fact they do have one of the worst traffic accident records in the world.
Similar, driving around Italy last month was an insight into the culture. One hears how bad Italian drivers are. In fact, they are not bad. They are brilliant drivers, but with a total sense of lawlessness.
They break every traffic rule possible: overtaking at will; stopping suddenly in the middle of a busy road to pick someone up; a red light is just something they may obey if they feel like it.
But like the Indians they expect everyone else to do the same. So they are hyper alert, they pre-empt each other and drive with total concentration, precision and acceptance. There is a co-operation and community spirit in the anarchy that reflects the country itself, filled with passion and with no time for over-regulation.
New Yorkers love the toot.
Pushy behaviour has no inherent value on Manhattan roads during the frequent gridlocks. But they’ll toot anyway, struggling to get ahead even when there’s nowhere to go. Very New York.
Coming back here was a shock. I really noticed the over-regulating by endless cameras and signs. I realised that I spend so much time looking at my speedometer — worrying in case I go 1km/h over and get fined $100 and lose a demerit point — that my eyes are often off the road. Does such stringent policing really make us better drivers? Our road accident-fatality rate is only marginally better than Italy’s.
If driving in a country is a rare insight into that culture, coming home does make me wonder what visiting drivers would make of our hyper-obedient society.