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     Volume 6 Issue 29 | July 27, 2007 |

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Traffic Tyrants

Srabonti Ali

Remember the good old days when drives were fun? There was something so exciting, and sometimes, very romantic about long drives around the city -- with the windows down all the way, the stereo on full blast and your friends all crammed in like sardines, enjoying the ride. There was always at least one other group of friends on the same road as you, and the two drivers would silently agree to a race to see whose car could reach the end of the road first. It was the best of times -- when roads were clear and you could drive to your heart's content, without having to deal with obstacles on your way.

Not like today.

Today, Dhaka city is a cacophony of blaring horns and back-to-back traffic on nearly every road. Exhausted policemen scream at stubborn drivers whose angry owners sit impatiently in the backseat, waiting for their cars to move, inch by inch, to their destinations. It's a wonder that we don't have a city full of lunatics considering how much time people spend cramped in their cars, with nothing to do except get more and more frustrating with each passing minute.

Aside from the fact that there is a recent boom in the number of cars in the capital city, part of the reason why traffic is so terrible is because half the drivers don't know how to drive. Oh, I am sure they know how to shift gears or manage the steering wheel, but they don't know how to actually D-R-I-V-E -- they zoom, they screech, they bang, but they don't drive. And it is not because these people are in a hurry to get anywhere that they drive so desperately fast. No, the reason is far simpler -- they drive fast because they don't want anyone else to get ahead of them. Their mentality reminds me of when I was in grade school and everyone would fight each other to get in the front of the line for anything -- kids would stomp on each others toes, shove each other out of the way and occasionally, a fight would break out. It's not all that different on the roads. Instead of the stomping on toes, drivers cut other drivers off usually causing the 'victim' car to halt suddenly (which in return causes a chain reaction with other cars). And in the same way my fellow first-graders shoved each other out of the way, drivers now have no qualms about administering what they think to be a light “tap” on another car so that it gets out of their way. What is disturbing is that these supposed adults have not grown at all from this mentality. They need to be first, and they need to be ahead of everyone else, as if being ahead is going to get them anywhere.

Another problem I have noticed (obviously sitting in the car bored out of my mind in the middle of a traffic jam) is that during those rare moments that cars actually do move without having to stop every few minutes, most drivers don't drive on either side of the road. Instead they insist on driving right smack in between the two lanes, on the dotted line, successfully blocking two other lanes of cars from moving forward. It makes no sense at all and again, displays an almost childish attitude of not letting anyone pass and also keeping all their options open (in case one of the lanes clear up it will be less trouble for the driver in question to quickly move into that lane). The end result is usually a road which is small to begin with, with three or four different lanes of cars.

Apart from all this there are the real barbarians -- the ones who drive in the wrong side of lane because it is either empty or less clogged. These drivers never fail to amaze me; they will risk being the cause of congestion in a lane which they are not supposed to be in and possibly an accident, just so that they can get to the end of the road faster. And they have no shame. I have seen these drivers get into arguments with other drivers (who are driving on the right side of the line, might I add) for bumping into them. It always really frustrates me when I see these drivers because I cannot understand what would possess these people to act in this fashion. What is even worse is that most people, including policemen think that this is completely normal and logical, which only serves to further encourage this not only dangerous, but also extremely inconsiderate behaviour.

In addition to all these drivers there is another kind of driver -- the driver who thinks he owns the road because he drives either an expensive, bigger car. A driver of a jeep or an S.U.V. usually exhibits more aggression than say, the driver of a sedan because he knows that no matter what happens, the chances of him doing harm to another car are higher than another car doing damage to his. Those who are the drivers of expensive cars just think that the road will open up before them because their cars are worth so much money.

I suppose that this lack of decency is something that people have just become used to -- perhaps they realise that they won't be able to change the way things are, so why bother protesting. What is disturbing is that people have accepted that this is a normal way to behave. To me however, it shows that our society is filled with people who are not only comfortable breaking traffic rules and regulations on a regular basis, but also people who don't care who they hurt or affect on their way, as long as they get where they want to get in a short amount of time. Every time I leave my house, I have to mentally prepare myself for the long and taxing journey that I am about to embark on, hoping against hope that my car will not be totalled and I will be able to get to my destination in a reasonable amount of time and in one piece.


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