The Worst Drivers in the World

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I’m pretty sure every place – neighbourhood, city, town, country – has been called by some person as having the worst roads and/or drivers. Without a qualifier to limit the parameters of comparison we can assume they mean in the world. Or in the universe, if they believe there are comparable automobiles and transportation infrastructure in alien worlds. Some people complain about places just being the worst place to drive – maybe an encompassing title for roads, drivers, weather conditions, pedestrian activity, and parking, or any combination of them.

If you make that claim about somewhere, consider a few things.

First – it’s probably you. It’s probably the mood you were in when you were driving through there, or if it’s outside of your everyday realm of home, work, school, family, friends, and commerce you aren’t familiar enough with it and don’t have an intuitive sense of direction. Admit it. There may be cultural customs you aren’t aware of, or heard about and think are bullshit because you are stuck in your ways and don’t see your own bias. You may just be an angry person with an irrational hatred for things (and a lot of drivers are) so wherever you are at any point of inconvenience is “the worst”. If that’s the case, please shut up.

Second – we are all limited in our scope of experience. You have driven in your country. Perhaps you’ve driven in neighbouring countries. Perhaps you’ve flown across the world and rented a car. In that case, add to the first point that you may not be accustomed to a particular side of the road. (This is culturally relative – the Brits and most of their colonial conquests have kept on the left because that’s how jousters ride their horses towards each other as most people are right handed; for the same reason, Napoleon spread through continental Europe and influenced other places because coaches that whipped their horses were liable to hit other coaches in the face.) Different settings – urban and rural, city to city, country to country – have different histories based on different needs. 20th century cities were built believing that cars were king. Isolated rural areas don’t need to be as navigable as locations with diverse traffic. Different timing and speeds of population growth versus economic development puts different cities, countries, parts of the world in different circumstances that affect infrastructure.

Third – the very act of driving, especially for personal efficiency, is a privilege. This makes it easier to drive at a cautious and leisurely pace in richer countries, especially ones like the United States and Canada that were developed alongside the personal automobile. Other countries have most of their traffic a matter of competitive business for scarcer resources. They are in bigger hurries to get the most out of their vehicles in order to feed their families. Watch shows that travel the world and see how roads in urban India differ from Michigan expressways. Safety standards aren’t observed or enforced in economic circumstances where they will cut the subsistence income of the people driving them. The people who live in these societies drive with different motivations and cultural understandings than those of us who have always taken seat belts, airbags, traffic lights, and turning signals for granted. Those handful of drivers here and there who speed and swerve recklessly are the exception. In other places, out of necessity, that style is the rule.

And finally – using hyperbolic adjectives like “worst” is blind to all of what isn’t particularly bad about the drivers in whatever area’s labeled that. There’s a shared mentality among drivers, something that’s taught to everyone who learns to drive in a particular way based on local customs and laws, that leaves things unspoken and underappreciated. I don’t drive. I don’t see things from the perspective of the driver’s seat, in motion, inside the vehicle.  I don’t extend my corporeal essence to the machinery around me when I do sit inside a car, like drivers do in order to change lanes, turn, and parallel park without catastrophe. One of these mistakes makes people terrible drivers. Not yielding properly that one time makes someone a complete asshole for the rest of your drive. These are matters of etiquette more than skill. That’s what, through my anecdotal observation, angers drivers the most. It’s not that they feel endangered – they feel offended. That often ties in with the first point – what prompts this harsh judgment is a tick in the character of the driver. The offending motorists/pedestrians/city planners/civic governments are probably not even half of the problem.

I was inspired to write this after jaywalking through stalling rush hour traffic. Maybe I make people think my city, part of town, or particular intersection is the worst. But I don’t just prance onto the street and make people slam their breaks to save me from a much deserved doom. I look at jammed traffic and the light up ahead to determine if my crossing will get in the way of any car actually moving. In taking these considerations I see how other pedestrians and cars around me misbehave, and what puzzles me the most in seeing these examples people complain about if they think these driving conditions are an injustice is that I rarely hear horns being honked. As Canadians, we are too polite.

Except me, I suppose. When someone’s driving does affect my safety, or my right-of-way, or my value as a human being on account of not being encased within a ton of metal, I will let that person know. Believe me, I’m doing this with the good intention of making my fellow citizens better drivers. There’s valuable perspective outside that shell.

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