Keeping your head above the fumes; trying to survive driving in Sri Lanka without sedatives or anti-depressants

If you’re anything like me (which you’re probably fervently hoping you’re not!), you might find it very difficult to deal with the sheer selfishness, ignorance and downright stupidity one may encounter while driving on a daily basis on the streets of Sri Lanka.

It may be because I live out in the sticks, and have to drive relatively longer; it may be because I try to practice patience so diligently in other aspects of my life, that it just refuses to extend to the idiocy I encounter while driving; it may be because I don’t like being patronised, especially by arrogant men who believe they have a right, for some reason, to be ahead of the queue, inconveniencing everyone else, or a right to intimidate me because I’m a girl. Or perhaps it’s because I have some utopian view of justice, or because I believe that the true nature of a people is depicted by how they behave on the street, or simply because I’ve got some form of OCD.

Whatever the reason may be, I’ve set myself some rules to follow while on the road, to prevent severe road rage, and bodily harm to those in my car and yours, and not mention pedestrian traffic.

The first realisation has to sadly be that when you’re driving in Sri Lanka, you shouldn’t expect sense, courtesy or any form of forward thinking from other drivers or pedestrians. So, it has to be YOU!

(In the same breath I must say however that if someone’s idiocy has indeed caused an accident, everyone plus a viewing gallery will come to your aid).

Here are but a few examples of joys you should expect instead:

  • A massive horde of pedestrians to cross the road in front of you at the traffic light, as soon as it turns GREEN and the little man turns RED (wonder what they think the little man is really…), at major intersections
  • Vehicles to overtake at very tight, very narrow BLIND bends; this includes ALL types of vehicles from motor bikes to fully fledged buses and tipper trucks that will not hesitate to crush you to death
  • Motorbike and tuk tuk swarm-invasions in even a tiny square inch of space left between you and the car ahead/behind, alongside
  • Motorbikes and tuk tuks to overtake from left and right, regardless of whether you have your signal on to either side
  • No signaling whatsoever, or permanent signaling, which is probably why no one puts any stock in signaling at all!
  • Someone who was driving at snail’s pace for 2km to speed up significantly, violently and unskillfully when you decide it’s time to pass them
  • Vehicles to veer suddenly in either direction to avoid potholes, change direction, or overtake; same behavior to be expected from pedestrians!
  • Dream-walking pedestrians, flirting pedestrians, three-four abreast pedestrians (including families, preggies, infants), tea-drinking, beetle chewing or smoking pedestrians who think the street is the pavement, phone-talking, swaying pedestrians, OBLIVIOUS kite-flying CHILD pedestrians, slow-motion pedestrians, walk-in-front-of-moving-car pedestrians, walk-BEHIND-reversing-car pedestrians etc. etc.
  • The farce of road lanes; why do we have lanes on the streets of SL? No one uses them; I doubt they even know what they’re for. Oh right – decorative purposes!!
  • The confusion of which side of the road we actually drive on in SL!
  • Vehicles to brake violently to save the lives of animals; cats, dogs, cattle, and even snakes; you may do this yourself
  • Phone-talking drivers; beetle-chewing, beetle juice spitting drivers; drunk drivers; especially bus drivers.
  • Leery bus conductors hanging off the footboard asking to be knocked off; but don’t do it because…
  • Murderous suicidal bus drivers who are exempt from all road rules; they are above the rules; they will not get persecuted if they kill you or total your vehicle. In fact, they probably won’t even stop. DO NOT GOAD THEM. Even I don’t (well, I TRY not to…).
  • Imbecilic behaviour when trying to negotiate narrow streets. Example: two vehicles cannot pass each other on a narrow road; however, there is a space where you can pull up a bit on the side of the road, to allow an oncoming vehicle to pass. YET, aforementioned oncoming vehicle, to prove its strength, power, importance and the fact that it will not wait for anyone, proceeds right into your face, thus preventing you from making it to the space where you WOULD’VE pulled over SO HE COULD’VE PASSED! By this time, vehicles have gathered on both sides, all with great bravado pulling up so close that no one can move an inch. Is that what you call “gridlocked”????

Here are some of my OWN rules, justifications and reminders to deal with this onslaught of traffic anarchy.

From my frequent updates on social media about how driving in Sri Lanka infuriates me, some of you may come to the conclusion that I’m a reckless, bad driver. On the contrary, what drives me to madness is in fact TRYING to stick to some semblance of sanity amidst the madness.

This may be the thing that gets me in the end, but I ALWAYS try to stick to the official rule…to begin with at least…but there are days when sheer exasperation makes me drive like all those whom I criticise daily!

Some that I often battle with:

  • If the obstruction is on your side, the right of way should belong to the person coming towards you. This means that you may be stuck behind a selfishly parked vehicle for up to half an hour, with your right signal hopelessly flicking as the minutes tick by, while hundreds upon hundreds of equally selfish vehicles just keep coming relentlessly. You may be lucky and one nice person will stop and let you go; you might give in to the rage, horn violently, block everyone and make your way out (try not to do this), particularly if the row of vehicles stuck behind you is oblivious to this right-of-way-rule and think you’re an incompetent fool for NOT honking your way violently out of the situation; the final eventuality could be that you may be stuck there until the selfish (SU)vehicle in front of you has finished buying their hoppers through the car window and decides to take off at a leisurely pace. Just try and be the bigger person. Even if your car is almost a tuk tuk itself. And that other car is a massive off-road SUV (which we really NEED in Sri Lanka by the way)
  • Choose your lane, and STICK TO IT. You wouldn’t even imagine how difficult this simple task can become. Just try it ONCE and tell me how you feel! Try it for one day of driving. Make sure you leave really early on the day you decide to try this!
  • In fact, try and leave early all the time, in order to accommodate all possible eventualities. At the same time, remember if it’s a choice between being alive and being on time, there’s a clear winner there.
  • Never overtake unless it’s a broken line; no matter how angry, how stuck or how frustrated you may be. Expect others to overtake, even at double lines!
  • Drive sanely at LEAST when your kids are in the car; use a CAR SEAT FOR YOUR SMALL CHILD. If you can AFFORD A CAR IN SRI LANKA, YOU CAN AFFORD A CAR SEAT. FOR GOD’S SAKE. Don’t have your kids bouncing around the car while you drive. It’s seriously a choice between life and death; an accident is an unplanned event. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZFMmNqCvbc
  • ALWAYS signal.
  • Don’t engage in arguments with tuk tuk drivers or bus drivers (see above); don’t race with tuk tuk drivers or bus drivers who are trying to ‘teach you a lesson.’ Don’t expect tuk tuks or buses to behave rationally. In fact, this applies to ALL vehicles; especially those driven by people with power issues.
  • This is not Europe; or America; or Canada. USE YOUR HORN AND USE IT LIBERALLY. Don’t expect a single person to check their mirrors or even spare a passing glance when they’re taking off from a parked position. Don’t expect them to signal that they’re moving from a parked position. Sometimes, even if they do and observe someone coming towards them at speed, THEY WILL NOT STOP. Ergo, use your horn. A polite toot will most likely get you nowhere. A more staccato type beeping pattern will probably suit you best. I have adopted almost a little tune for every bend, passing every by-road and every parked vehicle.
  • If I can help it, I only stop for pedestrians at a crossing
  • If someone has their signal on, I might let them poke in front of me
  • I try to be the polite one; let others pass, give way to oncoming traffic, and if there is a miraculous nice person, always ALWAYS thank them and then proceed to pass forward the gesture and choose to be nice to someone else on the road.
  • No matter how ridiculous that species called ‘pedestrians’ is, they have to be given precedence. As much as you’d like to knock them over instead, just for their stupidity.
  • Don’t try and horn cattle/buffalo off the street; they don’t take it well! Nor do some pedestrians…

It’s when I try all of this, and it all fails, that the road rage sets in; and violent behaviour presents. If you’ve ever encountered me as such on the road, I must apologise, but KNOW that I have tried very hard before reaching that state.


Thiru’s Quotes

“Blessed are ye who have limited peripheral vision, for you have had side mirrors bestowed upon you! May you find founts of eternal joy on every occasion you either choose not to use them, or are blissfully unaware of their existence!

May you never have to exert your precious energy, borne of a mountainous rice and curry and ten sugary cups of tea (with full cream milk powder, or Milkmaid), in using your neck and moving your oily head to see whom you have sent careening off the path (into pedestrians, ruts and oncoming traffic), and likewise, may you never hear the echo of their blaring horns, screeching tyres, and screaming voices, cursing you into the depths of hell!”

“Worry not ye joyful pedestrians who walk four-abreast along narrow streets, steadfast and unyielding, immovable in the face of car, van and tipper truck, for three of you shall be spared! Blessed is the jocund pedestrian who walks, laughingly furthest from the ‘sidewalk’ (rut on the side of the road) for he shall take the impact for you all!

Foolish is he who walks in single file by the roadside, for he knows not the joy of spreading oneself and ones cohorts (and innards) across the street in festivity!”

“Signal not, oh ye of little dexterity, for having opposable thumbs (along with the aptitude to use them), hand-eye coordination and the forethought to know where you are going are pursuits too trivial for your consideration!”

“Dear Porche SUV (oxymoron as you may be),

  1. There is a continuous single line on some parts of Parliament Road because, if you overtake in those areas, YOU ARE LIKELY TO DIE. Considering how trivial you find this, I don’t particularly care if you do. However, I would not be at all happy if you TAKE ME WITH YOU.
  2. Doing this while you are ON THE PHONE, will increase your chances of death further. However, as mentioned above, this would mean little to me, except for the fact that IT WOULD ALSO INCREASE THE CHANCES OF MY OWN DEATH.
  3. Therefore, I would greatly appreciate it if you would STOP TRYING TO KILL ME, YOU SUICIDAL MANIAC.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Thiru”

“Dear spacial-awareness and depth-perception challenged Mr. Fancy Pants:

If you just stick to your lane (which is on the LEFT here in Sri Lanka) while taking narrow blind bends, instead of cruising at 60 in the very middle of the street, you wouldn’t have to swerve violently to either side to avoid oncoming traffic or killing pedestrians. Swerving violently in a panic is not cool; even if you have reflective sunglasses, loud music blaring, and are driving with one hand (just FYI).”

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