Monday, April 20, 2009

Road bullies come in all colours and sizes

SOMEONE should undertake a behavioural study on what turns rational human beings into monsters once they are behind the wheels and see if the violent streak runs through certain personality types.

For instance, what causes them to charge at you from behind, announcing their arrival with flashing headlamps, when you are already on your maximum speed limit?

If they fail to grab your attention, they threaten your vehicle with bodily harm by tailgating as close as your rear bumper allows.

In traffic jams, they switch lanes without signalling. God help the motorcyclists travelling in between the lanes who fail to read their next move and apply the brakes in time.

Long queues bring out the beast in some motorists as they muscle in from the left, ready to cut queue so that they can get ahead without having to wait in line. And should their impatience result in an accident, they will hop out and scold you for not giving way.

When we speak of road bullies, the ugly stereotype -- the steering-lock wielding and hot-tempered Malaysian -- comes to mind.

Most of us are more forgiving towards foreigners who drive. They are better behaved on the road, or so we tell ourselves. But nothing could be further than the truth as my colleague found out last week.

She was driving through a stretch where one lane had been closed for roadwork. A signalman had been positioned to direct traffic.

As soon as she saw the gesture for traffic on her side to move, she drove forward.

But before she had covered half the distance, a Mercedes came from the opposite side and met her car head-on on a lane wide enough for only one vehicle to pass.

It stopped inches from her car and the driver just stared blankly at her.

"If I was not running late for work that morning, I would have stood my ground," she said later.

And when she reversed to let him pass, the bully expressed no gratitude and smugly drove off. But what riled my colleague most was that she had expected the white man to have better road manners.

Her story reminded me of my experience some time ago.

The traffic lights had been a bit slow that morning and a queue had built up at the junction.

After 15 minutes of waiting, my car was second in the queue. Suddenly, another car swerved in from the left and positioned itself into the small space between my car and the one in front.

I honked to alert the driver of the dangerous proximity and I was promptly replied with an incomprehensible scream from the driver, a burly woman of African descent.

All that I could make out of the cacophony was the sight of a child in school uniform seated in the backseat. The child running late for school could have been the cause of the driver's violent behaviour.

I gave in and let her pass.

But instead of a wave of gratitude, one finger came out of the window.

Since that incident, I have stopped expecting foreigners to have better road manners than Malaysians.

I have also stopped cursing locals who misbehaved on the road.

I have come to accept that all road bullies are the same monster underneath -- black, white or yellow-skinned, men or women.

Their rude behaviour does not bother me anymore because I know that one day, their paths will cross and they will teach each other a lesson neither will forget.

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