International road travel can be both a hazardous and exhilarating experience. Perhaps it’s because you are on the ‘wrong side’ of the road, on a scooter for the first time or because the rules are just a little bit different, but travelling along an overseas road is never as straight forward as it seems.
The application of road rules is what scares people. For example, in Australia lanes are provided, supposedly, so motorists travel along in an orderly fashion. Broken lines mean that it is safe to overtake, unbroken lines mean it is not. Speed limits are enforced and drivers must have a licence. It’s fairly basic. All common sense stuff.
That being said, each country has their own interpretation. I’ll attempt to elaborate.
Driving down a Thai freeway, cars zip past at speed, darting in front or squeezing through the tiniest of gaps. It would surprise no one if it was revealed that the basis for getting a taxi license was being able to master Mario Cart rather than actual driving ability.
The other noticeable thing is off these main arterials. Both sides of the road are fair game to drive on. In particular, buses like to use the ‘I’m bigger than you’ driving tactic. This could mean that other vehicles have to duck off the side of the road to let an overtaking bus past. Motorcyclists have a tendency to stay wide as they are considered more like wildlife rather than actual road users, with an expectation to get out of the way when the real road users get close. The direction of travel is inconsequential.
There is a clear divide in Vietnam; those who have cars and those who have motorbikes. Although all road users honk their horns at the first thought of doing anything, it is bike riders that interpret the rules differently. Driving on Vietnamese roads is like disorganised chaos. Where cars (generally) stay on the correct side of the road, mopeds do whatever they feel like. Traffic lights are a good example. Cars obey; mopeds go through anyway, as if traffic signals are only guidelines. This includes honking pedestrians using crossings.
Horns are actually supposed to be used for safety reasons. I have even seen people riding bicycles, yelling “BEEP, BEEP” as they rode past. The beautiful thing is that, as annoying as it may seem, I have never seen a horn used in anger in this hectic country. This could be seen as a good thing by some; letting other vehicles and pedestrians know you’re coming through, showing respect to fellow road users. It should be noted, though, that being on a moped is far safer than crossing the street by foot. That’s just down right petrifying.
For the record, the most I’ve seen fit on a moped driving past was six. True story.
Don’t get comfortable. The reason that African people have such good posture and athleticism is due to the fact that every car trip is like a chiropractic adjustment. Roads are so poor that there are more holes than a pair of designer jeans.
I asked one taxi driver when a particular road was made and the last time it was maintained. His answers were “The 60’s” and “Never”. This statement sums up the entire Tanzanian road management system.
The amount of people allowed in a vehicle is also a bit of a grey area but even I know that 22 people, 2 chickens and a goat in a minivan is a bit of a stretch. When the conductor has to cling to the outside, you know that it’s a bit crowded.
It’s a dog eat dog world – the Nepalese driver motto.
Apparently, there are road rules in Nepal. I asked my guide about it once. He said:
“Yes we have rules. You must do a test and get a license. But Nepalese people are very good at ignoring the law. We have been doing it since we were being taught to drive. We are experts.”
As a result of this revelation I’d tell you to buckle up, but that would require seatbelts. No taxi has seat belts in Nepal. Ever.
Overtaking on blind corners on mountain roads is also a rule. It happens with such frequency that I can only assume it is law. It’s a free for all. Just honk, accelerate and hope. The purpose of double lines is to mark the centre, that’s it. And if someone is in trouble, like a truck dangling off a cliff edge for example, only being prevented falling by some thin cables, simply drive over those cables and continue on. The driver of the truck was scared out of his mind, but our driver was in such a hurry that all he said was, “He will be fine”. Doubtful.
I realise that London is a city, not a country, like my other examples. But Londoners drive very differently to the rest of the United Kingdom. This means they get their own paragraph. They have the skill, nay the sense, of being able to detect the exact moment that traffic lights are going to change. It stands to reason, then, that these clairvoyant drivers will begin honking their horns in impatience before the light actually turns green. This makes spotting a tourist easy. They are the drivers who sit at the lights until they turn green. Because red means stop until the light changes, not stop for a bit then go anyway. Doesn’t it?
I can safely say that I have never worried about not making it safely to a destination at home or abroad. I can also safely say that I couldn’t tell you what all the road rules were either. It’s so ingrained in us what is acceptable on the road from a young age that we sometimes forget that things can be different elsewhere. What appears chaotic and dangerous can be, in reality, the norm. Worrying about it isn’t going to make other drivers change their approach. Put it down to experience and all part of your adventure.
Wayward Tip: just relax. Go with the flow of traffic but don’t imitate the perceived lawlessness, that’s when you’ll get in strife. Be calm and do what you normally do at home. Either that or hire a cab and take some sleeping pills.