I am Canadian and growing up with the timid drivers of Ontario, road rage is the occasional honk or middle finger in the rear view mirror. No one ever gets too close to your car and people are generally over cautious, nice to a fault and smooth drivers. The lengthy process of acquiring a license is relatively simple, but with the overwhelming police force we have, it’s pretty rare to see reckless drivers breaking laws or doing anything that might bring unwanted attention their way. Overall, driving in Ontario is fairly easygoing if you have even the smallest amount of patience in you.
The day we arrived in India and got in our first taxi, I knew it was going to be very different. At first, I was delighted at the change. The “me first” mentality made you feel like you were always getting ahead of the pack, the use of horn to let someone know that you are behind, beside, passing, or just acknowledging their presence seemed responsible and sensible in such an overly crowded place. We almost never sat still as the driver was constantly looking for a way around or through whatever laid ahead. As time wore on, I noticed that every driver seemed identical in their process, do whatever it takes to make sure no one passes you, constantly announce your location using a series of honks and be as heavy on the gas and brake as is necessary to make sure the gap between you and the car in front of you never opens up.
While it seemed nice at first, it quickly became hard on the ears and the stomach to constantly be subjected to the jerky stop and go style. Even during open highway drives it was like the driver didn’t know what would happen if he just kept a consistent speed, maybe the engine will overheat? Maybe the wheels will fall off? They were always letting off and putting their foot back down on the gas as if it was a nervous twitch or something they were taught to do. Honking at cars two lanes over, sometimes quick little blips of the horn and other times a whole chorus of honks and hoots. We did learn that there are in fact driving schools in India and Nepal but they aren’t the most popular classes to attend and certainly aren’t mandatory. The majority of drivers learn from their elders, and the main lesson seemed to be “do whatever it takes to get where you need to be”.
It wasn’t until our third destination in Goa that we realized how drivers could use their horns to feign caution and at the same time, recklessly make passes around blind turns. We were pretty unnerved by the change in style as we moved further north. We thought it was just the driver we had gotten but it wasn’t so. Where there are blind turns, there are almost always people making passes, day or night, rain or shine. On our seven hour journey from Kathmandu to Pokhara in Nepal, we became acutely aware of what the word tumultuous means. The sheer disarray of the roads was astounding to us, from the way traffic moved to the actual construction and quality of the roads. It was seven hours of bouncing, twisting and jerking all over the place. Last minute braking and constant steering adjustments to make sure we lived through the current maneuver was not uncommon.
The driving proved to be very much the same through the next couple countries we ventured to, the one exception being Malaysia. Indonesia and the Philippines though were equally reckless and sporadic with gas, brake and horn. When it was a dog in the road they will always wait until the very last moment to slam the brakes and horn simultaneously or sometimes even veer towards the dog in an attempt to drive it off the road. When another driver is on the road whether they are near or far they will always blow the horn and get as close as possible until attempting to make a pass. Weaving across congested lanes, driving on the sidewalk (if there is one) and even driving into oncoming traffic are a few of no holds barred maneuvers we have been a part of during our journey so far.
Through it all the only things I could think were “how have we not crashed yet?” and “I wish I was behind the wheel”. I’m happy to say there have been no incidents and only a couple close calls that had us holding our breath. I look forward to the day where I’m sitting calmly behind the wheel of my overpowered car fully at ease knowing that the only honks I will hear are those from people wanting to give me the thumbs up, the only people I’ll see driving into oncoming traffic will be policemen doing their duty and the only people I’ll have to worry about passing me will be….well, no one.