For anyone who has driven abroad and suddenly found himself back in the Philippines behind the wheel of a car, there is one observation about local driving culture that is commonly called out. It is a trait that a majority of Filipino drivers seem to exhibit and one that mostly affects the way we all drive. It is the feeling of entitlement.
Let me explain. If you have ever driven outside the country, particularly in a land where road rules and driving etiquette are enforced and practiced, there is an underlying behavior that governs the way drivers behave on those roads. They give way.
Whether it is a question of who goes first in an intersection, or just performing a simple lane change, drivers know and understand that if they do not have the right of way, or if they are signaled of the other driver’s intentions, they must let the other pass. The logic behind this is simple really. And it is something that needs to be taught, nay drilled, to student drivers learning the ropes. It is the idea that roads are meant to be shared.
In Brunei Darussalam for example, just a two-hour flight away from Manila, it is common practice for a driver to let another car that is signaling to transfer to his lane through. Even if it means backing-off or braking. This is a tiny nation where people take driving to heart. It is their main method of mobility with minimal public transport options available. And there, there is a pervasive atmosphere of courtesy and good will.
Culturally, we are not that distinct from Bruneians. The population is mainly Malay and Chinese of origin. Just like us. Even the weather is similar to ours. And yet, there is minimal evidence of the selfishness that is quite pervasive on our roads.
Merging into a main road is handled quite differently in Brunei as it is in the Philippines. There, cars don’t just barge into a road at any given opportunity. They stop, assess the traffic, and merge once it is safe to do so either with no cars approaching, or a fair distance away.
Here, we generally nose our vehicle into the road to signify our unequivocal intention of entering it. Never mind if there are pedestrians, bicycles, motorcycles, cars, jeepneys or even trucks approaching. Here we expect other people to stop for us. And if they do not and cause an accident, it is their fault, not ours. Entitlement.
Another typical behavior often seen on our roads is when we approach a toll plaza. The typical practice is for us to look for a toll booth with the shortest or fastest moving line. The path of least resistance. So we dilly-dally until the last moment to choose a lane, confusing the drivers behind us as to where we want to go. The precious seconds we save are oftentimes at the expense of others.
Even worse is when we see drivers force their way into a queue and expect to be given the space. In Brunei, for example, the common assumption would be to give the other driver the benefit of the doubt. He or she may have made an error in choosing a lane. And once the signal lights are shown, drivers behind are obliged to let the other car through.
Here, you will see two cars door mirror to door mirror inching closer and closer to each other until the last possible moment. One driver would be keeping his position in the queue, the other muscling his way to enter it. Both can easily be at fault here as they unnecessarily force the situation in their favor. Bring out the popcorn as it is yet another case of, you guessed it, entitlement.
The simple act of honking the car horn is considered disrespectful in Brunei as it is in many other countries such as Australia, New Zealand and even Japan. Ever wondered why your million-peso Japanese car has only one horn? It is because the Japanese discourage its use and have only left it there for emergency situations.
Granted here, there is a general lack of road discipline. People wantonly crossing the road, cars shifting lanes on a whim, tricycles or motorcycles suddenly making a u-turn, and the list to justify horn use goes on. But if we are observant enough, and defensively postured in our driving, we should expect the unexpected anyway and be ready to react appropriately. That is why our cars have steering wheels and brakes, so we can stay away from danger on our own accord.
The busina was not meant to be a declaration of our presence and right of way. It is just there to be used in extreme cases to warn others of an impending danger. The use of horns, and even the desire to upgrade them to louder, more intimidating units, is yet another demonstration of the entitlement that we manifest in our driving.
So, is the Philippines a hopeless basket case of driving degenerates? Well, not quite. If you have ever been to the Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority, you will see that drivers there obey road rules. They stop at stop signs or at white lines when stop signs or traffic lights are not available. There, drivers follow lane directions. If you find yourself at a right turning lane, you will be expected to turn right, not go straight ahead. In Subic, pedestrians are generally allowed to cross in peace.
The main reason Subic seems like another dimension in the Philippines when it comes to driving is because there, road rules are enforced. And if you are caught in the wrong, there are no ifs and buts. You pay the penalty for your transgression.
This is something that can be done locally among LGUs. A strict, no-nonsense implementation of existing and promulgated road rules and driving etiquette. It can start in a barangay, a village, a district or even a whole city. But the key is consistency. Road rules have to be applied 24/7 as well. In the same way we expect motorists to obey road rules at all times, enforcers should do the same in ensuring these rules are practiced and implemented at all times. That is how it is done in Subic, and how it is done in disciplined countries around the world.
Everyone has a role to play to fix the mess we are in. Let’s start doing ours now.
Motoring and motorsports are two of Mikko’s greatest passions. Combining more than twenty years of professional automotive photography and videography experience with years of touring car racing competition, and a deep understanding of the car industry, from both the manufacturers’ and consumers’ points of view, have given him a unique and insightful perspective in the motoring beat.