Apr 19, 2007
Loa Terrorists (Yer either with us or again us)
Above is a picture of the ones that are out to kill you.
In twelve years Laos has gone from having almost no private motor vehicles to about a gazillion murdercyles. Most of the traffic seems to be concentrated in Vientiane and the surrounding area. But every town of any size has people doing dumb things in the road.
In the normal course of life I’m seldom fearful of middle aged moms driving their kids to school or grandpa headed to the coffee shop to hobnob with his palls. Here in Laos it’s perfectly possible they could give you a real bad day.
It’s hard to say what is the potentially most dangerous habit. How about driving on the wrong side of the road on the edge until it’s possible to veer across all lanes to get to the opposite side. Or the standard practice of entering traffic without yielding or even looking. Take it for granted that the first few feet of the edge of the road belong to anyone.
Somewhere I’ve read the statistics of how many fatalities per kilometre driven and it’s one of, if not the, worst in South East Asia. How so many people could kill themselves so easily is a wonder to me. Thailand has much faster traffic but they’ve also had motorcycles for a lot longer.
A few years ago the powers that be made a rule that all the motorcycles had to have rear view mirrors. The first thing people used to do with a new bike was to take off the mirrors. The non use of mirrors should give you a clue as to local rules of the road. Nowadays I seldom see a mirror that actually is adjusted to look behind, more likely straight up to apply makeup or other very important things.
Lately they have painted in left turn lanes some places and I’ve even seen some people using them. Usually people have two options, cut across traffic at the first chance and drive up the wrong side of the road until their turn comes up, or slow down in the breakdown lane and look over their shoulder before cutting left across all lanes of traffic.
Cars are worse, they hurt more when they hit you and due to their size there’s more there to mess up with. Cars make slower progress due to all the motorcycles and they need to push to make up for it. Kind of like how a queue forms for a line at the post office, except in this case it’s a thousand kilos of metal they are pushing around with. Backing up and especially parallel parking are skills beyond many.
Once a kindly neighbour gave me a predawn ride to the airport. The road to the airport is divided and he ended up on the wrong side of the road forcing motorcyclists coming the other way off the road. He was of that crucial age of forty and over. Older folks didn’t grow up with motorcycles and so never learned to drive in their wild and crazy years. You can spot them ahead of you in traffic they wander and seem to float, unaware of their surroundings trying only to keep from hitting someone in front of them.
At night things get scary. There are a lot of things out there in the dark and many of them don’t have any lights, like cars and trucks and motorcycles. Drunks that can barely walk getting into their pickups and thinking they are stunt drivers on TV. Come to think of it Sunday afternoons are pretty bad that way too.
My only hope lies in the younger generation. The other day I saw a high school girl driving fast but skilfully through rush hour traffic, watching her rear views continuously for out of control maniacs approaching from the rear. Used her turn signals, anticipated entering traffic the whole bit. Another twenty years and things should be safe.