Driving school teaches us the basics of operating a motor vehicle. Using your turn signals, checking your blind spots, and gauging how much pressure to apply to your pedals all go towards the basic curriculum of a few hours in driving class.
Once you're done with that and are now unleashed into the streets of Metro Manila, you may find that all is not as black-and-white. The reality is much harsher and, to put it bluntly, far from ideal. So, how do you cope, you ask?
Here are a few things you need to understand about driving in our city streets to help you on your way:
Nobody will let you pass
Let's get real: it's a dog-eat-dog out there on our streets. When you thought driving around in your school car with a 'Caution: Student Driver' tag in the back made it seem like people went easy on you, it won't be the same when you're out driving your own car. People can – and will – do the craziest things just to get ahead an inch in traffic.
At times it may feel like the whole system of Manila's traffic is built around who can cut their way to the front of the pack, and it is a rather sad reality that drivers around town lack the discipline that some driving schools have missed out entirely on teaching. While we do not promote being the bully behind the wheel, it would help to stay vigilant and assert your presence on the road.
Going too slow is actually dangerous
Your driving instructors usually have that brake pedal on their side to slow you down if they feel you're speeding up too much. Based on my experience, my instructor back then made sure to keep me on a leash by always 'driving slowly' – even if we're smack dab in the middle of Commonwealth Avenue where being slow can be especially dangerous.
There are times where being absurdly slow on a highway or an expressway can make you more of a hazard than a 'defensive driver'. Identify speed limits on certain roads and acquaint yourself with driving your vehicle on the speed limit instead of under it.
The Vehicular Food Chain
To bring futher emphasis to how our roads are like a jungle, there is an unwritten rule that a food chain is somewhat present on roads today. Whether we like it or not, there is a heirarchy present with vehicles on the road. Bigger cars usually have more confidence with bruising their way around traffic, edging smaller cars to the side. On the flip side, smaller cars retaliate with a touch more aggression and agility, making things a bit more volatile during traffic.
Other vehicles simply command respect or even fear from other motorists simply for what they imply. A Black or White Toyota Land Cruiser may be a clear cut example of this. Considering the status of a person driving a car like that could hold, nobody wants to butt heads with somebody inside a Land Cruiser – who knows what kind of strings that person may have, let alone what weapons they could be packing.
Sometimes you have to understand that there are external factors driving some people behind law enforcement. Hunger, debt, or perhaps a need for extra income may cause these people to create 'ticket traps' – critical areas like intersections where they can apprehend motorists for a 'small infraction'.
These places are usually identifiable by spotting officers hiding in the bushes, or certain choke points that may put you in an awkward spot such as being held up in a yellow box mid-way through an intersection. We won't get into arguing your way out of a ticket, but we could tell you to be wary of traps like these. They're an inconvenience to say the least, so just make sure that you aren't doing anything wrong and that you're following traffic rules and regulations.
Improvise, Adapt, Overcome
Again, just like surviving in a jungle, driving around town can simply be summarized by Bear Grylls infamous quip: Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome. We can go on and on about many unscrupulous things involving the roads we traverse daily, but we simply can't cover the variety and complexity of what people are capable of on the road. Always stay vigilant and alert of what's happening around you as you make your way around the metro – and always remember the basics as you drive.