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Driving: Microcosm of Society July 24, 2007

Posted by Ned Stark in Uncategorized.

There are times when the ST Forum would feature some letters with regards to driving in Singapore, be it letters which bemoan the horrible state of driving in Singapore, letters which talk about how pedestrians and cyclists make driving hell, how other drivers make driving hell among other things.

Having driven in Singapore, Ned must say that indeed there is some truth to the assertions that Singaporeans are horrible drivers, both in terms of skill and in terms of courtesy. However this is not a rant about driving, rather it is an attempt to portray driving as a microcosm of Singapore society. And I must say its a rather interesting and accurate portrayal.

Sense of Entitlement

It has oft been said that Singaporeans do exhibit a sense of entitlement. Be it in Education, in terms of shopping to name a few Singaporeans often expect certain levels of service or rewards or remuneration for jobs done (be it as lawyers or…ahem…public servants?). However before moving on it must be made crystal clear that a sense of entitlement need not always be a bad thing; for example, the sense that being a Singapore citizens makes you entitled to something which foreignors are not entitled to.

Now what has this sense of entitlement got to do with driving? Witness how pedestrians dash across the road or stand in the middle despite the clear and present risk to their own lives. And why so? Because simply put, according to driving theory, drivers are the ones who have to yield the right of way to pedestrians. It is entirely possible that the fact that the law imposes the liability of pedestrian-motor accidents on drivers causes pedestrians to act in a bolder and more foolhardy manner. Of course, pedestrians are not the only ones who exhibit the aforesaid sense of entitlement, cyclists often do the same, cycling without caring if they drift into the centre of the left lane or not. Drivers too exhibit it. Of course that in itself leads Ned to his next point on…

Lack of Courtesy

It has oft been said, in MSM and in the New Media, that Singaporeans doth lack courtesy. Common examples include but are not limited to; not giving up seats to elderly or pregnant women on public transports, cutting queues for no good reason, not bothering to hold open the lift notwithstanding that the buttons are just before you, rushing into the MRT before people actually alight and blocking the escalator.

The same is seen in driving. Rare it is that a driver choose to give way to a fellow driver who needs to change lane. Thus it is hardly unsurprsing that there are accidents caused by drivers who were trying to change lane. In fact Ned once saw two cars in the same lane. Of course there are also instances of drivers who change lane for no reason whatsoever, forcing people to make way for them. However there are times when doing that is necessary; for example during traffic jams; especially in expressways where not changing lane could result in missing the exit and exiting a totally different place. Of course such the success of such attempts are entirely contingent upon the goodwill of your fellow drivers and anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that that is sorely lacking. A possible culprit could be the sense of entitlement mentality, where drivers believe that they have the right of way and thus have no reason whatsoever to give way to someone else for ANY PARTICULAR reason.

Another interesting phenomena can be seen when one signals to indicate to his fellow drivers his intention to switch lane. Through personal experiences it never fails to amaze me when, the instant one signals his intention, the car at the other lane will suddenly speed up, in effect preventing the driver from switching. Perhaps this could explain in part why more experienced drivers choose to switch lane instantly without signaling. And it also brings to mind an incident where the instant the driver signaled his intention to go to the left, the car on the left suddenly went so close to the car in front such that he was, in effect, tail gating. And do not get me started on probational drivers. It appears that hanging the twin triangles is tantamount to hanging a noticeboard asking people to horn at you for no apparent reason. Clearly a disgraceful lack of courtesy.

Miscellaneous stuff

The above was merely the tip of the iceberg. I am sure that others can come up with a litany of things seen when driving and correlate them to Singapore society as a whole. Whether this state of affairs is a symptom of a society too engrossed in things material or for whatever reason has not been touched here as it is not the purpose of the post. Furthermore Ned has used the word driver rather loosely; meaning that driver could mean a lorry driver, a taxi driver, a normal driver or bus driver, as Ned believes that no one group of driver is more prone to such actions vis a vis other groups (There have been taxi drivers who, contrary to popular belief, have been courteous to Ned). To stereotype would only perpetuate a common ailment in Singapore society.

Lastly, all events based in this post are purely anecdotal evidence from various drivers including but not limited to myself. Ned does not have any statistics or parliamentary reports or press secretaries to prepare them and thus it is fine if anyone objects in particular to anything that is said within.



1. j@x - July 24, 2007

I believe that the driving patterns on the road are less due to our sense of entitlement or rather a reflection of our society in general as a rat-race.

Many drivers speed up to prevent other drivers from cutting in front of them do so subconsciously after many years. It is due to the philosophy of “every second counts” in our efficient environment. They are merely responding to the “fight for survival” kind of mentality to out-do others, even if its only driving.

Lack of courtesy is not the main reason why drivers, pedestrians and cyclists behave. It is the lack of empathy! Drivers fail to empathize with pedestrians who cross slowly due to mobility problems. Cyclists fail to empathize with the driver who is genuinely worried about his drifting of lanes causing him to be knocked down. Pedestrians who cross the road slowly failing to acknowledge that the patient driver may actually be in a hurry to get somewhere. It is precisely this lack of empathy that has plagued our modern society, not only in Singapore.

I beg to differ on Ned’s views that Probational Plates “attract” honking. In fact, most drivers are alot kinder to Probational Plate drivers. The only reason why P-Plates “attract” such attention is most likely due to the very fact that they are new drivers, which would mean they have less experience under their belt, less certain in emergency situations, less aware of traffic conditions, thus resulting in many near-misses or undesirable behaviour. It is a necessary phase of life for any driver.

Although its true that we have many prejudices that lead to certain stereotypes, I beg to differ that the Rude Taxi Driver is another one of those. I believe that the few courteous taxi drivers were a few of the white sheep. How many drivers out there have not witnessed one or more or all of the below situations:

1) Taxi Driver flashes high beam at you in an attempt to get you to speed up.
2) Taxi Driver traveling at snail’s pace on a one lane street waiting for potential customers while holding up the rest of the traffic behind.
3) Taxi Driver holds on to his horn when he attempt to filter lane in front of him.
4) Taxi Driver honks at you 0.1 ms after the traffic light turns green.
5) Taxi Driver picks up customer on double zigzag line.
6) Taxi Driver not queuing up to make a turn and instead goes to the head of the queue and outmaneuvers other cars.
7) Taxi Driver showing you a rude gesture.
8) Lastly, even before you took to the roads, how many of you have been chastised by taxi drivers even as a learner driver?

The typical rude taxi driver a stereotype? Hmm.. on second thoughts…maybe…

Taxi drivers in general, arguably, have the most driving experience and mileage under their belt. Therefore, they should be the best drivers on the road and not the bully on the block. Instead, they should be road ambassadors on road courtesy and safety. Taxi drivers should be subjected to the same rigorous demands of bus captains and aircraft pilots because they too form the backbone of our public transport system.

2. Ned Stark - July 25, 2007

The lack of courtesy could in part be due to the lack of empathy. Because you dun care what a person thinks thus you do not care whether you make life difficult for the person a not. For example A does not empathise with the poor old man standing in the MRT and thus A does not give up his place.

Meanwhile, with results to “triangle drivers” there is anecdotal evidence to show that they do indeed get bullied.

Anyway I did not want to discuss too much on whether the rat race society is a cause of this state of affairs as the article was too long and I would rather readers (if there be any) give their own experiences:P

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