Driving Me Mad

On the Road in Sri Lanka


I’ve been to Nepal and India four times but have never travelled extensively on busy highways in this part of the world.

Virtually all of Sri Lanka is two lane roads, even between major cities.

There is a lane in either direction and a shoulder on either side.

I had no idea that meant up to six lanes of traffic, often three in each direction.

The shoulder is for pedestrians, bikes and motorcycles and the road is for pedestrians, bikes, motorcycles, cars, buses, trucks, tractors, various livestock and dogs aplenty.

If it sounds chaotic, it surely is.

Mayhem is more like it.

In the States people are generally conservative passing on a two-lane highway.

Not here.

Vehicles are constantly swerving out to pass, even with oncoming traffic less than 500 feet ahead.

But, it gets better.

It’s not all that uncommon to be passed while passing.

Three vehicles abreast with oncoming traffic that may be doing the very same thing.

My stock response was to mutter “holy shit” and then look the other way.

Did You Say Horn?

As they say, here the horn is standard and the steering wheel is optional.

Good God, the cacophony.

My driver honked a hundred times an hour, at least.

At everything and nothing.

My impression of using the horn in the US is to indicate how pissed off you are at some other driver at their supposed transgression.

Here, the horn seems to be exclusively used as a warning device, as in “watch out, here I come.”

People cut each other off with apparent reckless abandon and if you have tooted the horn you are apparently absolved of all crimes.

The Zen of It All

Over the past two weeks I have travelled by car over 1200 miles in Sri Lanka.

Not a single time did I see an inflammatory exchange or even an angry gesture.

Not once.

If US drivers drove similarly, the homicide rate would double.

Criminal courts would operate 24-hours a day.

I also never saw an accident nor an animal carcass on the highway.

This in a country with a million stray dogs and cows that have the right-of-way.

It’s all very perplexing.

It’s a good thing that everyone is zen because my driver bumped two people during the trip.

The first was while jockeying for position at a gas pump.

He hit the passenger on a motorcycle hard enough to break the skin on his shin.

It was all apparently seen as part of normal operations.

It would have been an instant lawsuit in the US.

The second person–get this–a cop.

Edging out into traffic he tagged a police officer walking down the sidewalk.

The cop looked back but kept walking.

In the US, weapon drawn, no doubt about it.

All in all, I’ll take US drivers complete with motherf@@ker on their lips and a fist (or two) in the air.


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