In 2009 an average 55 people died each day in car accidents. That’s in a country of not even 30 million where drunk driving doesn’t exist and half the population is banned from driving.
Entering the road here wakes a mixture of comical amusement and fear for your life. Traffic rules in general are optional. Even traffic lights just give a broad idea who is supposed to go ahead and who not. I have driven through South American city traffic, which certainly isn’t easy to operate in coming from strictly regulated Germany, but this here is a whole different deal. In Buenos Aires rush hour traffic is hell as well – but still there is this general theme that everyone wants to get from point A to point B, even if that means not taking much consideration for other drivers.
Here it’s the opposite. The main idea of driving seems to be preventing everyone else from getting from A to B even if it means you will be slowed down as well. If someone wants to switch lanes here, it is your responsibility to prevent that by any means short of a full on collision. And by lane, I mean the here popular definition of “any part of the road and the near surrounding that’s wide enough for your car”.
The average local drives with one hand on the cell phone, and one hand on the horn. Honking nonstop is mandatory as soon as you go slower than 20km/h. It is said that they don’t bring their cars to inspection until the horn is faulty.
If you want to make a left turn, of course you will dutifully file in on the very right side – and just accelerate faster than everybody else. Common practices of passing someone include taking highway exits, opposing lanes, parts of the desert, closed off construction sites.
If there is a red light and you actually halt in the first row it is customary to not fully stop, but to slowly roll onwards at about 10 meters per minute. This often enough results in several cars slowly rolling right into the center of the intersection such that crossing traffic has to perform impressive evasive maneuvers. Of course, the first and second row of ‘waiting’ cars can’t see the traffic lights anymore in that case – but they’ll surely be reminded to finally go by 200 angrily honking horns when the light finally turns green.
All cars here a set to make an annoying beeping noise at 120 km/h. Which interestingly enough seems to be one of the only effective traffic rules – inner city traffic is usually limited to exactly 120 km/h. Regardless of course of road condition or congestion.
The Company must have realized that losing a substantial part of their workforce to traffic accidents is bad for business, and they do everything they can to educate respectful driving. Every building is plastered with posters reminding everyone to drive safely. There is campus police patrolling the company compound with vigilance. The slightest offense is punished harshly: One citation will cost the ENTIRE team of the driver their bonuses. The second one and you are invited for a serious talk to a board of upper management. I have not heard of anyone getting two citations so far.
Of course, this does little to change driving outside the safe zone. As soon as you are cleared to leave at the compound gate, everyone slams down the accelerator and heads off into madness once more.
Depending on my mood I will follow this up with more blog posts about working abroad.