Errant Drivers – It wasn’t me!

Errant Road Users and Drivers

Tolerance for the Void Decker (third from left) and other errant road users

Politicians and social media don’t normally mix well together. Online vilification befalls the intrepid politician who dares make critical observations of undesirable social behaviour. You can expect members of the public to hurl a fair share of blame or sarcasm the other way.

Thus, when Law and Foreign Affairs Minister K Shanmugam recounted on Facebook some unpleasant road encounters he had recently, he must not have expected such an overwhelming level of accord with Singaporeans. Over 300 comments were posted, largely in commiseration and many bringing along their own stories from the road. It was like a coming together of Aggrieved Drivers Anonymous.

These days, everyone has something bad to say about errant drivers. “It’s the foreigners who brought their countries’ driving habits to our shores!” some claimed. The tragic Rocher Road accident involving Chinese businessman Ma Chi exacerbated such sentiments. Others blame truck drivers who speed, impatient cab drivers who sound the horn indiscriminately, or inexperienced drivers who make sudden turns.

Hold on a minute, though. If everyone is complaining about these pesky little road terrors, who exactly are the errant drivers then? Do they not use Facebook too? Are they keeping quiet and hiding in the darkest corners of cyberspace, hanging their heads in shame?

The answer is obvious. It’s you, me, and everyone else on the road. We are all errant drivers. That includes the guy with the nice smile who held the door for you in the most gentlemanly fashion on the way out of the lift lobby (I would say especially him).

It is always easier to remember the transgressions of other people and forget one’s transgressions against others. Before you start going “but I always signal”, well, but have you never driven above the speed limit, made a last minute turn, used the horn unnecessarily, done an illegal U-turn, or failed to give way to another car? Even if you were the perfect driver (surveys show that the majority of people regard themselves as better drivers than others, which can’t be true mathematically), you must have inadvertently inconvenienced someone else at some point in time. Most of the time, you don’t even realise you have caused offence.

Going back to the question: Have driving habits in Singapore deteriorated to such a large extent? I don’t drive there regularly these days but I won’t doubt that is the case. As the country gets more crowded and more cars pile on to the roads, it’s bound to happen. But are we worse drivers than those in other cities, as many are saying? I don’t think so.

Perhaps the difference with other traffic-clogged cities such Bangkok or Rome is that the people there are better at shrugging their shoulders and saying “that’s just the way we drive around here”.

While we do not condone bad behaviour on the roads, we must also learn to live and let live. Give the trespasser the benefit of the doubt; it probably wasn’t his intention to offend. Maybe he had a worse day than you did. If it’s just a minor annoyance, there’s no need to get too worked up. Anyone can get caught up in the heat of the moment, but it is not healthy if one is still simmering towards the end of the day and starts writing angry letters to the press.

So, yes, driving habits have become worse. But what’s more worrying is that we have also become less tolerant towards those who infringe upon us, sometimes even over the most trivial incidents. Let’s remind ourselves that graciousness is not just about how we treat one another, but also about how we respond when the treatment received is not in our favour.

I know it’s not easy – just today I had an unpleasant verbal exchange with a taxi driver who blasted the horn at us while we were out cycling. Now what a bloody errant driver that was! Thankfully, I was able to forget the incident soon enough and enjoy the rest of our ride.