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Why are Filipinos such bad drivers?

Is it just ignorance of the rules, or is it something deeper?

Why can't we respect something as simple and universal as the yellow box? ILLUSTRATION BY MARCO RIVERA

Are we bad people because we’re bad drivers, or are we bad drivers because we’re bad people to begin with?

Filipinos are generally bad drivers—that much is a given. By bad, I do not mean ignorant, though our roads certainly have a healthy supply of morons. By bad, I mean disorderly and discourteous. We beat the red light, and not because we do not know what the red light means. We beat it because we don’t give a hoot. We leave our cars in no-parking areas, and not because we do not understand the sign that says parking is illegal. We do it because we couldn’t care less.

We drive the way we do because our moral fiber is so corrupt that being rude and defiant has become our way of life. Let me repeat: The Filipino is so hopelessly wretched that doing the opposite of right and proper has become second nature, and it shows in our driving. We do not become bad people only when we’re behind a steering wheel; we’re already rotten away from it.

One time, a most appalling sight caught my attention on the way to the office. A pickup driver blatantly ignored the red light and even had the temerity to slowly cruise past three traffic officers, all of whom were vigorously flagging him down. He didn’t stop, but he also didn’t make a go for it. In fact, he even appeared to be taunting the officers, as if challenging them to make him pull over if they could. It’s not the lawlessness that’s revolting in this case—it’s the thought that the lawless are so secure in the knowledge that they can always commit an offense and get away with it.

I’ve always held that everything you need to know about this country, you can actually learn just by driving around the city. We are a people with a sickening me-first mentality, and that’s precisely the reason we’re going to the dogs. We weave in and out of lanes. We jump long queues. We block pedestrian crosswalks. We pick up and drop off passengers wherever and whenever we please.

Then again, I can’t really blame our people for disobeying traffic rules. That’s what happens to human beings who have spent generations being ruled by corrupt leaders. Many of us want to abide by the law, but then we begin asking: What’s the point?

Many of us want to abide by the law, but then we begin asking: What’s the point?

I was once running late for an appointment. And there I was, patiently sitting in traffic and staying in my lane. Everyone else was caught in the gridlock, and yet somehow things were made bearable by the realization that you were all in this mess together. I was rushing, but what the heck, my fellow motorists were in a hurry as well. And then out of nowhere—from behind us but in the opposite lane—rushed a convoy led by a siren-equipped Toyota Land Cruiser. There we were, mere mortals, resigned to the immobility of our situation and made to witness the nauseating specter of some politician disregarding the rules he himself was supposed to uphold. Again, you ask: What’s the point?

Sitting in traffic while being passed by a politician’s convoy is like being told you don’t have a life. That you’re insignificant. While the other person is a big shot, and that this country will come to a halt if he doesn’t reach his destination on time. Like dozing off in Congress does the republic any good.

As a result, even the most altruistic among us end up accepting the painfully obvious truth that it’s a jungle out there, and that it’s every man for himself. So we stop trusting our fellow motorists. For instance, we don’t use the signal light when we’re changing lanes because we fear the other driver will just step on the gas to prevent us from doing so. When there’s an approaching ambulance, most of us hardly ever feel any sympathy for whoever might be fighting for dear life inside the vehicle. Our first reaction is always that of cynicism and suspicion—that the ambulance is really just empty and that its driver only wants a faster way through the horrendous traffic.

The MMDA compound is a regular stop for delinquent drivers reclaiming their licenses. PHOTO BY VERNON B. SARNE

Many argue that we’re actually innately good, and then point at Subic as proof. They say that Filipinos become law-abiding drivers inside Subic because traffic rules are strictly being implemented there. I don’t know how this fact is comforting. If anything, Subic is the single most damning piece of evidence that we are a nation not just of bad drivers but more so of bad people. Because it shows that we know how to drive properly but refuse to do so—especially when no one’s looking. I do not worry too much about drivers who are unaware of a traffic rule or two; these can be taught at seminars. I worry about drivers who are aware of every traffic rule in the book but do not want to follow it. No driving seminar can teach integrity.

I’ve been repeatedly honked at for not proceeding around a corner that prohibits turning right when the light is red. In this country, people who drive properly and courteously are an aberration. And that’s exactly why most of us will forever be bad drivers: We know, but we just don’t care.

Vernon B. Sarne

Vernon is the founder and editor-in-chief of VISOR. He has been an automotive journalist for 26 years. He became one by serendipity, walking into the office of a small publishing company and applying for a position he had no idea was for a local car magazine. God has watched over him throughout his humble journey. He writes the ‘Spoiler’ column.