The Culture of Dangerous Driving

20 04 2009
A typical commute on a crowded train

A typical commute on a crowded train. I know that the image is a bit misleading as it's not "driving" per se. Just really wanted to include it πŸ™‚

As I was sitting in a rickshaw a few days ago – trying to make my way across town in the it’s-Friday-so-everybody-wants-to-get-home traffic, I remembered a conversation I had with a co-worker when I was in Istanbul a few weeks ago – about a trend of reckless driving in the developing countries (and some developed, as well!) .

We were discussing which country had the craziest drivers. After the unsuccessful attempt of reaching a conclusion, I kind of realized that pretty much every country I’ve traveled through over the last few months, as well as the places that I’ve heard about from other travellers, seem to be competing for the title of the β€œWorld’s Unsafest Drivers.”

Certainly, it’s easy to make a case that in a lot of these places, people have to deal with traffic, bad roads, poor signals, and tons of cars, which is why they are forced to drive like this. But hey – coming from New York, I can relate to that. Yet, you typically won’t see 6 cars trying to squeeze into a 3-lane road on the FDR Drive nor will you see motorcyclists riding on the sidewalk in order to get ahead.

In fact, relatively speaking, New York has has the politest drivers and cabbies I’ve seen anywhere over the last 4 months. While you’re bound to frequently encounter unsafe drivers in NYC or anywhere else, here it seems to be more of a whole culture of bad driving and, more importantly, disregard for safety.

Even if you take the actual driving aside, it seems that a lot of the drivers don’t seem to be particularly concerned for their own safety or safety of their passengers or pedestrians. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen motorcyclists ride on the roads of Mumbai with their helmet hanging on their handlebars rather than their heads. In the rare occasion that the driver of the bike may wear the helmet, the passenger (if there is one) almost never does. Protective gear? Non-existant.

Seatbelts, it appears, are a taboo in every place I’ve been to this year. Most of the taxis in India don’t even have them (they don’t have sideview mirrors either, but that’s another story). Even if the vehicle happens to have a seatbelt, if you attempt to put it on, the driver is bound to make a joke about it or even get offended.

When you ask the locals, they’ll tell you that accidents are rare. At first, you could even believe it as the drivers here are a lot more alert and have developed excellent reflexes. You would also never see people lounging in their car seat at a 45 degree angle driving with one hand while putting on make up with the other.

But the actual statistics say otherwise. Turns out that in 1998, 6 % of the world’s road accident deaths happened in India, while India only 1 % of the world’s road vehicles.Β  Their share of global car accidents increased to 10% in 2006. And, in Mumbai alone, you have up to 35 road accidents per day [BBC, 2005]!

For a lot of the drivers, accidents are just waiting to happen – you simply can’t avoid them in these conditions. So, if people have to ride in these conditions with this type of risk, why not take the measures to protect themselves a little more?

One could say that helmets and other protective equipment are expensive and not everybody can afford it. True. However, you have a lot of middle-class folks riding on the same bikes and cars in exactly the same way. So, that’s not always the case.

It could also be the fact that these things are not as enforced by the police. Even if you do get stopped, you can typically pay off the cop with a small bribe. It’s a much more expensive ordeal to get a ticket in the U.S. Trust me, I know πŸ™‚

But, as a whole, it seems to be a cultural and an educational thing – whereas the risks are just not perceived to be that great and nobody really talks about them.

Any other thoughts?




8 responses

20 04 2009

I remember arriving at St. Petersburg airport and getting into a cab there. I first thing I did when I got into the front passenger seat was put on my seat belt. Well, after a few seconds, I notice that he’s not moving and just sitting there, looking at me. I asked him what’s wrong and he says, “ti chto mne ne doveryaesh? (what, you don’t trust me?)” It was a good thing it put mine on cause he turned out to be a psycho driver.

Driving is interesting like that. My dad never put a seat belt on back in Ukraine and he refused to do so here as well. Just wouldn’t do it. It was only when my parents took out a mortgage and started a business that he finally realized that our family depends on him being alive, quit smoking and started putting on a seat belt.

I could never understand this. It’s a second nature to me. People would get really creative with this stuff. In Russia they sell t-shirts with a picture of a seat belt on them. Seems like it’s easier to just put the damn thing on.

21 04 2009

My mom is a crazy driver. A ride with her is like a roller coaster πŸ™‚ So when I get home I don’t think I will be wearing seat belt while riding with her because she may think that I don’t trust her.

21 04 2009
Alex M

Yea it’s definitely a matter of culture. Bor’ka, I think you’d really enjoy “Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us)” by Tom Vanderbilt. It really breaks down driving habits and patterns around the world, often citing some very cool studies.

21 04 2009

a, Just ordered the book!

s, now that explains the snowmobile accident πŸ™‚

23 04 2009

Oh c’mon! it was not an accident, it was my little mistake. Did you get hurt ?

26 04 2009

Please just don’t try on yourself:) I mean a top of the crowded train:)

26 04 2009
Anya I

I agree with you.

I had a similar conversation with my mom recently. We were discussing the decreased safety in the mountains in Crimea (for hiking). She thought it’s because many taboos are gone as well as because the police does not enforce the laws as harsh as it used to.

26 04 2009

I wanna ride on the top of the trains! πŸ™‚ I think it’s so much fun πŸ˜€

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