Thursday, April 5, 2007

Driving In Metro Manila, Part 2

A tourist arrived in the Philippines and took a taxi to his hotel. At one intersection, the taxi driver beat the red light. The tourist was quite surprised, and asked the driver, "Isn't that dangerous?" "Ah, no, " replied the driver. "My cousin does that all the time, and he hasn't been in any accident." So, the tourist accepted the explanation, keeping quiet, but concerned as the driver beats the red light every time. Then, they came up an intersection with their light green. The driver made a screeching stop.

"Why did you stop?" asked the tourist. "The light is green!"

The driver, looking at his left and at his right, answered, "My cousin might be passing by."

I feel safer driving on the roads of Metro Manila than of Los Angeles or Fort Worth. For one, it is assumed that all drivers in the Philippines are crazy. Because of that, one would drive defensively, always on his guard. Unlike that in the US, because everyone takes for granted that others follow the traffic rules, they become complacent. Just one mistake, one miscalculation, and an accident happens. For another, traffic in Metro Manila is so slow that you can easily react when another driver fails to think.

Filipino drivers are also very skilled. Where else can you find a gridlock untangled in less than five minutes. Inch by brave inch, looking to the left, then to the right, avoiding each others' eyes (for the one who does so will have to give way), slowly, the intersection becomes free-flowing once more.

One cause of slow traffic is when an accident occurs. Cars in the lane where it happened would try to get into the other lanes. But drivers in these lanes would not give in. Don't they know how to move in alternately? What's more, those passing by the accident would slow down to take a look, trying to analyze whose fault it was. We call them "usi's", for "usisera" and "usisero". What for? Will they change the situation? They would only slow down the flow of traffic. Why don't they just drive on...? But in my point of view, I think the red Honda was at fault.

Of course, one cannot depend on other drivers driving carefully. I've read in Wikipedia: "Mutual cooperation among drivers would give the maximum benefit (prevention of gridlock), but this may not happen because of the desire to maximize one's own benefit (shortest travel time) given the uncertainty about the other drivers' commitment to cooperation." What a relief! And I thought it was "only in the Philippines".

I once asked a batchmate who lives in the US how come they express distance between two points by saying how long it takes to drive from one to another. Like, the distance from his house to the grocery store is a ten-minute drive. He answered that it is estimated that one drives at an average of one mile per minute, which makes the store ten miles away from his home.

We also do that in the Philippines. Driving from our office to Makati is a thirty-minute drive. That means Makati is five kilometers away, or about three miles. Of course, you have to double the time during rush hour.

But one has to be very careful driving in Metro Manila. Even with the road clear, one should expect a car, a child, or a dog to suddenly appear and cross your path. If it's a cat, you just run over it.

When I was just still learning to drive, my high school friend told me to drive up to a speed that I can comfortably make a sudden stop. After ten years of driving, I have increased this "comfort speed" from 30 kph to 40 kph.

They say that wearing seatbelts can give a driver 80% chance of surviving a serious accident. With the slow traffic in Metro Manila, it seems such a precaution is not needed. But, perhaps, cool heads and respect for each other is a better safety precaution than seatbelts.