Driving as fast as wheels can turn

is the subject of my Trade Tripper column in this Friday-Saturday issue of BusinessWorld:

Before some "feeling" lawyers accuse me of intellectual fraud, it is hereby acknowledged that the above title was taken from the song "Driving" by Everything But The Girl (from the album Language of Life), composed of the duo Ben Watt and Tracey Thorn, the latter now doing collaborative work with Massive Attack.

In any event, this article is not about EBTG but rather about one of my pet peeves: driving in the Philippines. As elegantly as I can put it, driving here sucks.

To drive in this country, particularly in Metro Manila, is a test of one’s sanity. I’m sure the lot of you have read the saying "I’m careful but you’re slow; or, I’m a quick driver but you’re a raving lunatic." However, this is simply not the case. I am pretty sure that a majority of the drivers in the Philippines should have not been issued a driver’s license in the first place.

Jeepneys and buses lead in making this country a horrible place to drive in. Jeepneys are supposedly a symbol of Filipino ingenuity. If that’s true, then this country is really in trouble.

There is nothing ingenious about the jeepney. For the first few years after the Second World War maybe but six decades after? It is a dangerous, gaudy, and dirty machine.

The drivers behind the wheel are usually no better. Most of them belong to some organization (with names all sounding like BOBOTODA or something) whose apparent purpose is to train them how to be even worse drivers. They stop at intersections during green lights, stick out in intersections during red lights (the better to obstruct pedestrians from crossing), and they always, always, stop at corners to prevent those who want to turn from doing so.

It’s no use blowing the horn or blinking the lights or calling out at these drivers. It is a matter of honor for them that they inconvenience their fellow motorists. If the light turns green and you happen to be behind a jeepney, don’t make the mistake of calling the driver’s attention to it as he will consider you questioning his manhood and will in no way want to move forward. He will move forward when he decides to, green light be damned!

Bus drivers are no better. It’s really not a lack of discipline but rather just plain psychotic. I’ve actually seen a bus in EDSA turn a full 90 degrees just to overtake a fellow bus. I’ve seen (I’m sure all of you have) passenger-filled buses race irrationally down highways. I’ve seen buses bully smaller cars by looming menacingly behind them at full speed. There should be a law imposing psychological exams on these drivers or (if there is one already) even stricter exams.

Come to think of it, perhaps a great number of motorists here do have a fragile sense of manhood.

Accelerate to overtake a slow moving vehicle and I bet you he will accelerate as well. Blow your horn for them to move to a slower lane and they will defiantly ignore you. Signal to turn and they will consider it an emasculation if you got to enter their lane ahead of them.

It is simply unthinkable in this country to be courteous and give way to your fellow motorists. I’ve actually seen jeepneys that, for the simple reason they were not able to sneak into the lane they wanted to go to (without doing the un-macho thing of signaling), accelerate closely past the "offending" vehicle in the hope of breaking off its side-view mirror. Or tricycles that actually have hard metal wires connected to their sides so as to scratch any private vehicle that would dare go alongside them.

Or perhaps motorists here just absorbed the ilustrado’s stupid sense of entitlement.

Try driving in any highway. It would be difficult for you to stay in even one lane for more than five minutes as you would be forced to keep switching lanes every few seconds. The reason is that motorists here seem to believe they have the inviolable God-given right to drive at any pace they feel like and to stop anywhere they want.

So, for example, in a three-lane highway, the outer lane will have to be avoided because it’s full of jeepneys that stop without warning, the middle lane will be occupied by some jerk who would be blissfully driving below the speed limit, and the inner lane by an even bigger jerk driving even way slower.

All this time, assuming that these idiots can be avoided (as they usually drive in tandem), you would then have to deal with young executive types who think they’re from the movie The Fast and the Furious, deranged motorcycle drivers on 125cc bikes imagining they’re on Moto GP, and morons in pompously dark-tinted SUVs driving between two lanes.

Want to know what’s wrong with our society? Take a drive.