How’s your driving?

“How is my driving?” You see that question stenciled on public service vehicles and delivery vans, followed by a phone number where you can call in your complaints. I believe the question is rhetorical and the number. who knows? My cynical mind says it is connected to a recorder. I have never tried calling, so I may be wrong.

Not all ladies of my generation can drive, some of my ex-classmates at that Catholic girls’ school learned the ineluctable skill later in life and out of necessity. I had just settled in a foreign country (Mexico) with two minor children, and already 31 when I learned how to drive, thanks to a good and patient teacher. In fact, when I bought my first car ( with proceeds of Mexican silver accessories I had sold to Heacock’s Manila) I did not know how to drive. My brand-new Renault was manual, the automatic was more expensive. That was a blessing as it turned out, now I am comfortable driving both manual and automatic, unlike the millennials in the family who cannot handle the manual.

An old friend and colleague, Jose Perdigon, posted: “Since 1969, I have driven in Metro Manila (with a license) and also very often in the countryside. I have travelled all kinds of roads, road conditions, and levels of traffic in my 44 years at the wheel. I have also driven in three other countries, from the flat super-highways of central California to the steep mountain lanes of Asturias, Spain. I think I know what I am talking about.” Indeed he does! I went to Abra with Jose and his wife Jeanette, a native of Bucay town. Her cousin, Rex Bernardez, erstwhile mayor of the town, invited us to check out the ruins of an old Spanish fort. Jose was the designated driver of that 10-hour-long journey. I featured the intriguing ruins in my television show and Jose found the name of the fort in the National Archives.

Continuing with Jose’s post: “I observe in my daily travel around Manila all kinds of driving behaviour in my fellow drivers. My particular statistics? Ninety-nine percent of tricycle drivers do not have the slightest idea of the traffic code; very possibly they do not even know there is one.  Ninety percent of motorcycle and public utility vehicle drivers are in the same category. Some of the latter border on the criminally insane, particularly among public bus drivers. About 75% of taxi drivers are unconcerned with traffic conditions or rules. And a hefty 50% of private drivers do not really know how to drive.”

Jose said that it does not take much to sit down at the wheel, turn the key, and move feet and hands in coordination to manage steering, moving forward, gear shifting, and braking. “I must concede that most Filipinos are excellent at that,” he concluded. However, I beg to disagree.

“But, driving is a different matter all together,” Jose affirmed. “It involves civic responsibility; there are laws and you must obey them; we are not road-owners but users of a common convenience. We should not block unnecessarily or even cut a right of way, or a corner. Driving also involves concern for resources: fuel is a resource; to be managed, not to be burned [mindlessly]. A car has to be handled and maintained properly, it is not a toy that can be abused and discarded prematurely. Driving involves common courtesies and common sense. Driving is not an act, not a show-off; it is a way to arrive at a place safely and in comfort without treading on everybody else on the road.”

I agree absolutely and I am sure the reader does as well. Jose said: “Simple sensible driving practices are Olympically ignored, I can almost say despised in our everyday driving through the city and countryside. You do not have a right of way simply because the driver ahead of you had it. Does anyone know how to merge like the teeth of a zipper? Or, to give way to the driver who arrives ahead of you at an intersection? Or, to turn a curve using only one lane without cutting into the inner one? Or to drive consistently without sudden accelerations, or to decelerate a hundred meters away?”

I am afraid not, Jose; most drivers may have passed the test and read the rules but feel that these do not apply to them. You should listen to MMDA’s program on AM radio on Sunday mornings. You will be appalled at reports about how drivers, specially of private vehicles, behave towards our law enforcers.

“Daily experiences of driving in Metro Manila are hair-raising,” Jose Perdigon observes, “I cannot but wonder if many drivers get their licenses in a raffle. One can teach a monkey how to make a car move, but I cannot teach it to drive intelligently or responsibly. It is only the attitude of paying attention to these details and making a habit of it that makes a driver.” You mean a competent driver aware of his social responsibilities. I am convinced that drivers can contribute in no small measure to road safety and to the decongestion of Metro Manila streets and highways. So what kind of a driver are you? How is your driving?