Monday, June 29, 2015

Friday, March 6, 2015

Driving in Manila for Foreigners - Tip #6: Manila drivers drive with the front of their car.

When the average driver anywhere else in the world decides to change lanes, he/she usually will check the sideview mirror or take a peek over their shoulder at the lane next to them to make sure the lane is clear enough for their whole car to fit before merging over to the next lane. Well, that is NOT how people drive in Manila. Drivers here drive with the front half or even front quarter of their car...pretty much from the driver forward. What do I mean by this? Well, when someone wants to change lanes here, they won't check to see if there's enough space for their whole car. They'll instead wedge the front quarter of their car into the other lane, forcing the car in that lane to slow or stop so they can then complete their lane change.

Remember what I said previously about making your own right of way? This is that concept at work. It pretty much works like this...once they get that front quarter of their car in, they've got it. They've MADE the right of way theirs, and it's expected that the other cars will heed this and let them in. Not doing so will likely result in a collision.

So, if you're driving around Manila, keep this in mind. When someone uses this tactic and bullies his way into your lane, don't get mad. Getting mad will just increase your blood pressure, give you gray hairs, and possibly shorten your life expectancy. Remember, that's just how people here drive. Yield and let them in. But revel in the fact that you can use this same tactic to your advantage as well. You can use this to MAKE your right of way just like everyone else does. If you employ it, and employ it well, it definitely will help in getting you around Manila "successfully".


Friday, February 27, 2015

Driving in Manila for Foreigners - Tip # 5: Forget the concept of having "the right of way".

In most countries, there are existing rules of the road and driving etiquette. For the most part, drivers follow the rules and maintain some semblance of order. This includes the notion of having "the right of way" in certain driving situation when interacting with other drivers on the road. Now, the concept of having "the right of way" is a simple one. For example, at an intersection where there are cars trying to cross, generally the right of way belongs to the vehicle that arrived at the intersection first. Once that car traverses the intersection the right of way then transfers to the car that arrived at the intersection after the first car. Simple, fair and effective.

However, this is Manila; where nothing is simple, fair nor effective. To drive the streets of Manila successfully you'll need to completely throw out the notion of someone having the right of way. There is no right of way here. If you assume that you have the right of way in a given situation where you would have the right of way in a different country, you'll be quickly testing the strength of the bumpers, fenders, or other body panels of your car.

Here in Manila, you make your own right of way. I like to refer to it as imparting your will on other drivers through the calculated use of your vehicle. You don't wait for other people to let you in or allow you to go. You make it so they almost have no choice but to allow you to proceed. How do I mean that? Say you're on a smaller cross street that intersects a larger street and you need to make a left across traffic onto that larger street. If you wait for an opening, or for another driver to let you in you'll be waiting for a long, LONG time. No one here is just going to let you in on their own accord. So, what do you do? Basically, you'll inch your car forward little by little as cars pass until the point where the oncoming car has no choice but to stop and let you go or they risk a collision. Once they stop to let you in, you'll have to do the same to any other lanes of traffic that you need to cross or merge into.

Sounds crazy, right? Well, that's how other people will drive here and this is how you must drive here as well to survive. And despite the perceived chaos and insanity here there actually IS some semblance of order or a "way" that people drive here. Take this exact instance as a good example of this "order" as well. After you "make your right of way" in the above example, the other drivers that have been forced to stop will typically wait and let the cars that may be behind you to go for a bit as well as a kind of "courtesy" instead of bullying back in once you have gone. See, driver's in Manila aren't that cutthroat.

So like I away with the notion of "right of way". Here you have to grab the bull by the horns and make it your right of way. Just remember that other drivers will be trying to do this as well. As long as you keep some balance between your aggressiveness and defensiveness like I mentioned in my previous post, you should be perfectly fine.


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Driving in Manila for Foreigners - Tip #4: Driving in Manila requires BALANCE.

The previous posts in this series have dealt mainly with some pre-requisite information needed to drive here. But now it's time to get down to the nitty gritty of info you'll need to successfully navigate an automobile around the streets of Manila. The first piece of nitty gritty advice I can give you is that successfully driving here requires a delicate balance of driving with extreme offense and extreme defense. The BALANCE is the important part here. Excessive defensiveness and it'll likely take you forever to get anywhere (remember from the first post in this series that my definition of a "successful" drive includes a "minimal amount of time" factor). Excessive offensiveness and you'll likely end up in a test of bumpers with a Passenger Jeepney, or of the excessive number of huge buses whose drivers wield their people-carrying behemoths as if they were whipping around the city in a small Toyota Vios. Trust me, that is one test that you will fail.

So balance is the key word. With time and experience in Manila you'll learn how to pick and choose your battles. You'll learn when to push and when to back down. You'll learn what you can and can't do. Much of my own personal "education" about driving in Manila came from the first few months after we moved here. During that time, we only had one car so our hired driver would have to drive me to and from work in Makati; about a 30 minute to 1 hour drive each way depending on traffic. Whenever he drove me around, I paid close attention to how he drove and how other people drove to get a feel for what was and wasn't "acceptable" here. To get a feel for what to expect from other drivers, and what other drivers would expect from me.  

In hindsight, our driver at the time was pretty skilled. Unfortunately, he didn't really grasp the idea of balance though. He leaned a little more on the offensive/aggressive side and that eventually resulted in a fender bender with a Mitsubishi Montero Sport. So the moral of the story here is that balance is definitely key. If you can find the happy balance between offensive and defensive driving you'll be well on your way to "successfully" driving in Manila.