Pete Brunoehler shares his experiences – some of them rather hairy – of driving on the roads in Malaysia.
I have two children, born in the late 80s and early 90s. I have been driving in Malaysia since the 90s. What’s the connection?
When my kids were small, we used to play video games where objects of all sorts came flying at you from all directions – just like driving in Malaysia!
Between speeding and weaving cars, errant motorbikes zooming in all directions, and the occasional unpredictable and unaware pedestrian, driving in Malaysia brings back memories of playing those video games with my kids.
For those of you who are new to driving here, I’d like to explain four types of drivers that you will certainly encounter, especially during highway driving. I call these four the Flashers, the Winkers, the Weavers, and the Shoulders:
You are driving along on the NSE, enjoying the scenery and minding your own business while moving slightly above the speed limit, when suddenly out of nowhere in the rear-view mirror you see urgently flashing headlights, coming closer and closer until the car trailing you is within centimetres of your rear bumper.
(This is the Flasher Agility Test—to be able to stay within centimetres of the car in front of them, at extremely high speeds, all the while frantically flashing their headlights—for kilometres at a time if necessary.)
Surely you think, there must be some emergency for them to follow so closely!? Alas, there is no emergency, this is just your average Malaysian Flasher, in a huge hurry. Ironically, the same Flasher will often flash you several times in a single trip, as apparently roadside stalls require frequent stops and subsequent returns to the highway, with of course, more flashing to make up for lost time…
Winkers are cousins to flashers—the lazy cousins. Rather than using all of the energy required to flash their headlights on and off at you in frantic fashion, as described above, Winkers just turn on their “fast lane turn signal” (starting somewhere near the Thai border and off again when entering Singapore).
This signal means “I am coming through”, and regardless of your speed, traffic conditions, other cars, motorbikes, safety, life and limb, etc; your role is to immediately move out of the way despite the dangers that quickly doing so may create. By virtue of the power granted to Winkers by illuminating this powerful single turn signal, you had better move. NOW!
Weavers are second cousins to Flashers. They come in both automobile and motorcycle life forms. The job of a Weaver is to spend as much time crossing lane lines as possible, avoiding spending more than 3 milliseconds either behind other vehicles or (boring) in just one lane.
Weaver Logic: If I was expected to stay in a single lane, then the road would only have a single lane! Right?
The second job of a Weaver is to change lanes so often that all other vehicles on the road lose track of where the Weaver is, raising driving excitement levels by increasing the likelihood of clashes and crashes with each weave, in and out of your blind spots. Who wants a dull road trip?
Finally, the third cousins to Flashers would be the Shoulders. Shoulders are not going to be constrained by lanes, lines, edges or road borders.
The Shoulder Motto: “If it’s paved, it’s there for me to use.”
This is a particular favourite during Festive Seasons and after accidents—those actual lanes that you feel obligated to use are now far too slow to use for the Shoulder. Just make sure that you swivel your head constantly to make sure you know they are there—just like in the videogames.
The king of the road
Finally, here’s the best part: I am confident that if you have spent much time driving here, you’ve encountered that uniquely Malaysian Highway “Hybrid” Driver: one who can Flash/Wink/Weave/Shoulder — all at the same time! When does the High Speed Rail begin operation?
5. Irresponsible parents
I am going to end on a much more sombre note. Those who have met me know that I am not one to preach that common “Expat Mantra”, about how much better organised things are “back home”. But I will make one exception for this article.
When my aforementioned first child was born, I will never forget leaving the hospital in the Midwestern US. The Birthing Centre nurse followed us to the car, and inspected our car seat/seat belts, the connections, the seat size, the seat brand, etc. She questioned us as to who installed it, what needed to be done when transferring to another car, etc.
She was serious and thorough. So, while I had purchased the seat in advance, and common sense (not to mention the law) required a child seat, she really reinforced the gravity of what I was now doing—carrying a defenceless child in a car/car seat.
To this day, it breaks my heart and makes me angry to see scenes of parents in Malaysia simply holding their children without car seats. Given the poor statistics of Malaysian driving/accidents, and the types of drivers that I have described above, this is a mind boggling decision for a parent to make. Or not to make.
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