Sunday, 30 September 2012

Annoyance #2: Drivers

My #2 annoyance in Singapore may be related to the previous annoyance, as it has to do with people going from point A to B. I want to talk about drivers.

I do not drive in Singapore which I've explained in my previous blog. I explained that the prices of cars are just too high. Meanwhile, prices have gone up further; the COE (the piece of paper, valid for ten years, that you need to buy a car) costs S$86000/EUR56000. After this, you still need.... a car. I like Singapore very much, but not enough to donate that much tax money to the government.

Besides the costs, there is another reason for not wanting to drive here: the traffic is CRAZY! There seems to be a personality change that happens to Singaporeans when getting behind the wheel of a car. Suddenly, 3 millenniums of rich oriental culture, Buddhism, Taoism and Confucianism will be forgotten, and replaced by Darwin's 'survival of the fittest' principles. Needless to say, owning a bigger car than your neighbor is advantageous to sustain these principles.

A few types of behaviour are particularly striking.

The Tailgating/not signalling/not-let-anybody-in-your-lane cluster.
These three are closely intertwined. There seems to be an unwritten rule to leave a 1 meter space or less between cars. This is regardless of the speed. If, for some reason, you forget about this rule for a second, another car might quickly change lanes and take the position in front of you! The not-let-anybody-in-your-lane principle kicks in, as this cannot be tolerated in Singapore traffic. After all,  you would lose face and would be ridiculed for the years to follow. So the moment you see somebody signalling to get into your lane (yes, it is called YOUR lane for a reason!)  the only fitting response is to quickly accelerate to fill the space and prevent this evil act from taking place. This is where the three liter turbo charged engine is an indispensable tool, and I am sure this is part of the explanation for its popularity. Of course, your fellow drivers are not crazy. They too drive the Singapore roads daily. So they know that signalling to change lanes is as futile as asking for a napkin at a hawker centre. So the Singaporean driver will act swiftly and change lanes signal-free at the moment there is a small space available in the other lane, where one symbolic blink may be given right before completion of the maneuver.

Inability to stay within their lane
For many drivers, staying between the lines is a task that is difficult to master. I suspect those were the kids in kindergarten that screwed up at any color-by-numbers assignment, but were never corrected, as their proud parents saw that merely as a sign of borderless creativity. This borderless creativity however is less of an advantage in modern day traffic. These drivers see lines - even when double white - only as a friendly suggestion by the Land Transport Authority where they could possibly drive. After a multi-lane turn, they will make a random choice in which lane to continue after the turn. This, in combination with the tailgating, actually causes many accidents.

Excessive Honking
This is my personal strongest annoyance when it comes to traffic. I live downtown, opposite of Mount Elisabeth Hospital. As in any big city, traffic will sometimes come to a full stop for a while. But you would think that in the vicinity of a hospital, where people are not at their best, to put it mildly, and usually dying to get some sleep (pun not intended), drivers would refrain from honking. This however does not seem to stop anyone from expressing their annoyance by excessive honking. And I do not mean a short and clear honking signal, like to prevent a pedestrian to step in front of your car (I already explained the unpredictability of the pedestrian's behaviour), no I mean a continuous honking. This can be sustained sometimes for 10 seconds or more (scientifically measured using my 1987 Casio watch). The underlying assumption must be that the lorry driver with supplies at Paragon Mall will actually finish his maneuver faster when he hears the ominous sound. Or that the gridlocked crossing will miraculously clear by the cleansing power of the horn.

Witnessing all this behaviour from the back seat of a taxi is damaging enough to my blood pressure; I fear that if I would drive myself in Singapore, I would eventually lose my composure and drag a misbehaving fellow driver out of his car and tell him off. I would explain how irrational and dangerous his behaviour was, not proud of losing my temper, but happy that I would have contributed to safer roads in Singapore. Or at least that is how it would happen in my fantasy. In reality of course I would just use the horn for 10 seconds.

In Singapore these issues are now acknowledged, and the authorities wonder why the traffic behaviour and agression is so much worse than in other, much more congested cities like New York and Bangkok. Measures like refresher training and on-board video cameras are contemplated. Funny enough, they even use the small town of Drachten, Netherlands as an example!  (see article)

Meanwhile, I will rely on MRT and taxis and protect my blood-pressure.