Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Courtesy on the road

This is my column today.

I promised my politics-weary friends that I would try to refrain from writing about politics every single time this column comes out regardless of the aggravation from the ongoing campaign season. A very difficult task, I tell you, because most things in this country are related to politics and given that it’s barely a month before election day, one can’t go beyond five minutes without being confronted by a political issue.

So today, I will write about a different kind of aggravation, something that most of us are exposed to on a daily basis: The breakdown in basic courtesy on the road among motorists.

I must admit though that what set me off on this piece was an incident that was still related to politics. We were doing the Visita Iglesia Maundy Thursday last week when we came across vehicles around churches in Makati that were decorated with campaign paraphernalia. I am not talking about cars with giant stickers of a yellow ribbon that morphs into a bird or those with an orange checkmark that is a trademark violation of the logo of that famous brand of shoes. I am talking about cars with windows boarded up with posters of candidates, vans with their external walls plastered with the smiling mugs and the hackneyed slogans of this or that politician, and jeepneys adorned with streamers and other flotsam and jetsam of the electoral campaign.

One would expect that people who are on a campaign sortie would be a little more courteous and would in fact go out of their way to be nicer to people; they are courting votes, after all, and presumably want to be in the good graces of people. Sadly, this is not always the case. I hope that people realize that campaigning for candidates is a task vested with certain responsibilities, foremost of which is projecting the image of being friendly, pleasant and law-abiding. Behaving like you have absolute right of way and flaunting power such as having traffic cops or barangay tanod stop traffic so your convoy of vehicles can get through without delay actually harm the candidates one is campaigning for. People get the impression that the candidates have the tendency to abuse authority.

Unfortunately, courtesy on the road particularly among motorists is a virtue that is almost extinct. Here are, to my mind, ten common acts of discourtesy committed by motorists. I am not talking about following traffic rules and obeying laws—those are pretty much required; I am talking about seemingly simple things that manifest lack of concern for others, or simply lack of civility.

Easily topping the list is this penchant of many drivers to immediately honk at the car in front the moment the traffic light turns green. I really have no idea why people do it. If the car directly in front is stuck or taking its own sweet time, I can understand the impatience. But see, many drivers just automatically honk the horns of their car the moment the green light is on as if everyone still needs an auditory stimulus to add to the visual traffic sign.

Related to this is the annoying habit of some drivers to press their horns repeatedly and loudly in protest or in exasperation when they get blocked or when someone—usually a taxi or jeepney driver—cut them off or did something wicked. I understand the frustration. The problem is that these drivers forget that a car horn being pressed with extra force and for extended periods of time are painful to the ears of people who are not cocooned inside cars such as those aboard a jeepney in front of the car or standing on the sidewalk next to the car.

Many Filipino drivers simply do not respect pedestrians and pedestrian lanes. It is very easy for one who is riding vehicles to forget what it is like to be walking on the road. I know a lot of people whose paradigms is that vehicles have right of way over pedestrians—even at designated pedestrian crossing areas. Motorists should give way to pedestrians crossing the street, particularly on pedestrian lanes and most especially during downpours or when under the scorching heat of the sun. It’s basic kindness. In other countries, one runs the risk of having their cars damaged by pedestrians if it happens to block a pedestrian lane. That’s because respect for pedestrians is highly valued in these countries.

And then there are motorists who stop to pick up or unload passengers right where they are—in the middle of the road, two lanes from the sidewalk, or just when the traffic light turned green. Jeepney drivers are notorious for doing this, but motorists have also picked up on the annoying habit. It seems many drivers just can’t be bothered to bring their vehicles to the curb to load or unload passengers.

Accidents do happen and when they do, I am aware that the right thing to do is to wait for a traffic cop to assess the situation for the corresponding paperwork required. In situations like these, traffic is held up as the vehicles are left where they are. On many occasions, the damage is minor or the culpability can be decided on amicably between the two drivers anyway, so why prolong the agony and inconvenience more people on the road? People should practice quick problem solving right on the spot. Again, I am not saying this should be the norm. Some accidents need the intervention of traffic cops. But really, minor accidents should be settled quickly and amicably.

There are drivers who are obviously new to a place and have difficulty finding an address they are looking for. These people hold up traffic as they slow down, look at signs, or ask people for directions. This can be avoided by just being a little bit more proactive. People should get directions ahead of time. The problem is that some people decide to wing it and therefore cause traffic or inconvenience people on the road unnecessarily.

Some drivers are unbelievably obstinate. I’ve come across many drivers who, after missing a turn, or failing to swerve to an inner or outer lane before an actual turn, still insist on having their way rather than doing what should be logical—move to the next intersection and go back. They force their way and cause bedlam on the road. The problem with these drivers is that they think other people should just adjust to them and their mistakes. They actually think “tao lamang” (we’re just human) is an excuse that is applicable in all situations.

Some drivers are unable to manage their tempers and pick fights with others. In addition to the fact that losing one’s cool is potentially hazardous to one’s health, it really doesn’t help anyone. Most of the time, it is better to just let things go. When someone cuts the path directly in front of you, or does something stupid on the road, the better course of action is to forgive and to let go; to resist the temptation to roll down the window to curse or throw invectives, or worse, coins, cellphones, or the car’s stick shift at the other driver.

Some people attribute this to the so-called crab mentality syndrome, but I’ve always wondered what it is that causes drivers to insist on claiming a few inches of road space ahead of them just because the traffic light has turned green even when they know that the road ahead is jammed and gridlocked. This results in monstrous traffic jams as those who are trying to cross the road get blocked.

And finally, this is what I consider a supreme act of discourtesy on the road: Not giving way to student drivers. Everyone has to start somewhere so we all need to be patient with student drivers as this is one sure way to perpetuate good behaviors on the road.

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