Thursday, September 21, 2006

Sudden Realisation

On my drive to work earlier this week I had a particularly bad journey where I nearly ran people over on three separate occasions. Not deliberately, you understand, but three occasions where people {stepped off the kerb without looking/cycled out of a side street without stopping/weaved violently from one lane to the other/watched me approaching at 60kph and decided that I was far enough away that I'd just about be able to stop if they got in front of me/got off a bus and walked in straight line from the door across the road/etc./etc.}* so I had to {brake/swerve/brake & swerve}* to avoid killing them.

This notion that the driver of the car is always at least partly to blame for any accident seems to drive people to the verge of suicide. Some people absolutely have faith in this rule (particularly visible as the older people that flap one of their hands at you as they step into speeding traffic in a "Ha! You've got to stop!" kind of way - regardless if the laws of Physics render that an impossibility.

On this particular morning, it occurred to me as one pedestrian whistled past my wing-mirror, that it doesn't even worry me as much as it did. Driving here one has so many near misses that there comes a point when you concede that having an accident and probably killing someone is, more-or-less, inevitable. In fact rather than worrying about near misses as I did when I started driving here, they now simply tend to annoy me.

It was quite sobering on that particular day for one of my colleagues to say that she'd seen an accident - as indeed we all have - the day beforehand but this was a 'body trapped under a car in a large pool of blood' type incident. I guess the fact that I'd reconciled myself that I might kill someone crossing the street meant that I'd only reconciled what I'd be destroying (i.e. some person who is unknown to me) not what I'd be creating (i.e. the bloody aftermath).

They did have a road safety campaign that didn't hold back in terms of the message (if you want to see what sort of pics they published they were like this - don't look if you're at all squeamish) but that doesn't deter people from the hand flapping. Personally, I'd rather be alive and wait until it's safe to cross than dead but certain that I had the upper hand legally.

* - Delete as appropriate


HistoryElephant said...

Quite a few of these people will have grown up in a world with very few cars; even twenty-somethings will not have been used to traffic when they were kids. Not making eye contact with oncoming car drivers is an important part of the process.

In the UK, where everyone is very familiar with traffic moving at speed, I have recently had to stop/slow suddenly (or have seen others have to) because a teenager (or group of teenagers) has chosen to cross the road regardless of the oncoming traffic.

I suspect this is more macho, devil-may-care, bravado (with a big dose of stupidity) than the 'does-not-compute' obliviousness one sees in China.

They tend to use an angry-young-man style stare to try to intimidate you into slowing down - which, of course, in China would get them killed as the driver would assume that the pedestrian was going to stop.

Anonymous said...

I think there's also a faith in 'curb side' justice by committee. That is, it seems whenever there's an accident between vehicle and pedestrian, whether bicycle or automobile, a crowd gathers, listens to the argument, debates the relative merits of each side, and then clamors to support one side or the other, usually insisting money changes hands. Needless to say, whenever a lao wai is involved, particularly if he or she is the one driving, the end result can be messy (and expensive).