Originally published by The National 26th May 2010
I used to think that it takes two bad drivers to cause an accident. That was until a speeding Toyota Land Cruiser flipped into the air and landed upside-down on top of a car my parents were driving … on a different carriageway. A freak accident? It was nothing short of a miracle that everybody survived. The Land Cruiser had six teenagers in it; the eldest had just got his driving licence 10 days earlier and decided to take his friends out on a joyride in his father’s new SUV. The car tried to jump the queue but instead hit the pavement where it pole-vaulted onto oncoming traffic on the adjacent carriageway, landing on top of our sedan. Needless to say, both cars were wrecked. The young driver’s biggest worry was how his father would react to the now non-existent car, while he was getting his forehead stitched up.
My father hurt his sternum and had trouble breathing. My mother ended up with three fractured ribs and a bad case of insomnia that the rest of us caught subconsciously. That was two years ago, and even though we have all accepted the fact that my mother will never fully recover (driving long distances and picking up heavy objects are physically exhausting and sometimes painful for her) I am eternally grateful for the few broken bones and sleepless nights we endured considering what might have happened.
Road casualties are the biggest waste of human life. You just don’t realise it until that life leaves behind an unrecognisable corpse. Scare tactics, tear-jerkers and simple logic have all been used to get drivers to become more self conscious of their driving. The ones that do work have a short lifespan, almost like witnessing a roadside accident and slowing down for the next 10 minutes until you accelerate back to the 20 kms mark above the speed limit.
Besides the Abu Dhabi-Dubai motorway, what scares me the most is how much disregard people have for their lives, not to mention the lives of others. When I see this behaviour, I wonder “don’t you love yourself?” The drivers featured in a recent YouTube sensation, Sheikh Zayed Road Madness!, are the ultimate example. They put the lives of others at risk at the expense of their own while pulling stunts on Sheikh Zayed Road. They look like they are enjoying every second of the thrill and basking in all the glorious attention they are getting. They even mesmerise with their manoeuvres and at some point – after you stop reprimanding them – you even start to get excited.
Yes, these drivers are bored and probably don’t have anything better to do, but if there’s any way we can protect them from themselves and us from them, then we need to speak their language. Those drivers are accused of being selfish; selfish for not sharing the road, selfish for disrupting traffic, selfish for taking our attention off the road, and most importantly, selfish for putting the lives of others at risk. The police are on a mission to extinguish bad driving, but is this what we should call it?
If you were honest with yourself, you will realise that these drivers are better drivers than most of us. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not advocating reckless driving, but you have to admit, that they know more about cars than the average driver. They have control of their vehicles and that’s why they can do things with their cars that seem to defy the laws of physics. Of course one momentary lapse in control can create unimaginable consequences.
So they are not bad drivers, they just lack driving etiquette. Good manners are often learned experiences with ill mannered people. Nothing will convince you to reach for your handkerchief than someone spraying you with runny mucus and saliva. Understanding etiquette requires that we become more conscious of how we are perceived. Often this can lead to vanity. While this is not a trait to be proud of, it can make you more conscious of your driving because you care about how people see you rather than just your car. What’s the point of driving a flashy car if no one can see you in it?
Look around and take in your surroundings. Slow down. Indicate. And most importantly, rather than use them as target practice, give pedestrians the right of way. You might even get a few friendly waves and smiles along the way. With vanity comes better driving manners. Learn them. Use them. And look good doing it.