Civility on the Road

The September 14, 2014 editorial of the Inquirer about our public transportation system concluded with this statement: In civilized countries, officials do not think it beneath them to take public transport with the rest of the population. But then again, those countries have effective transport systems that are well maintained, run on a strict schedule, and thus move masses of people efficiently. For them, “public service” is not just a laughable phrase. For us, our transport problems are a bad trip and a horrible reality with seemingly no end in sight.

I was struck by the article’s use of the expression “civilized countries” because it then occurred to me that the sure way to solve the transport and traffic problems of our metropolises is for all our citizens to act in a civilized manner.

To be civilized means to achieve a state of cultural, social and moral development that is considered excellent. For a society to be civilized, each of its citizens must be civilized. And moreover, all the citizens also cooperate so as to attain a civilized state. This simply means that each normal citizen must practice a modicum of virtue and as a whole the society they compose must also be a bearer of high cultural, social and moral stature.

To solve our transportation problems, the civil authorities must act in a civilized manner by doing their job at applying the adequate solutions scientifically and with political will. The citizens must also act in a civilized way by following the rules of order and courtesy that are pertinent.

Our public transport system, sad to say, is a rather clear reflection of the state of civilization, or the lack of it, of our society. I do not want to sound negative about our people and nation. We can see that there has been some improvement in several aspects of our transportation system. This fact just shows that if we make up our minds to do things better, we can.

To be civilized involves civility or courtesy. If we want to attract foreigners to our country we must practice more courtesy on the road.

Driving in a European country many years ago, I was trailing a long truck along a two lane road. I wanted to overtake it. By law the truck could not exceed eighty kilometers per hour (kph). This speed limit was indicated by a circular plate at the rear of the truck. Indeed it was running at that speed, even if there was no traffic in front of it. They told me that there was a practice in the roads of this country which I have tried and used a number of times. If you want to pass a truck, you must show yourself by moving your car a bit to the left so that the truck driver can see you in his side mirror and flash your headlights. Then return to your lane. If the truck driver sees there is no oncoming vehicle he will flash his left turn signal which means you can pass. Then you can pass easily and safely. As a sign of gratitude you must blow your hour twice like saying thank you. And the truck driver will blow in return: you’re welcome. That’s courtesy.

In another country, I was on a freeway when at one point I had to slow down because there was a long queue of cars. I noticed that there were three lanes on that side of the road and yet the queue of cars occupied only two. I asked the driver why the cars did not occupy the third, outermost lane. I was told that lane was reserved for emergency cars. Indeed after a few minutes an ambulance sped by using that lane. Then when we reached the source of the queue we saw two cars collided blocking two lanes of the highway and allowing only one lane to pass. And yet, the queue did not take long to pass because there is a standard practice among motorists of that place that when only one lane is passable the two lanes that want to pass take turns alternately. There is no such thing as trying to get ahead of the other, what we call “git-gitan” in traffic. Nor were the motorists slowing down further to take a good look at the accident, what we call “osioso”, so as not to delay the others. Again, that’s courtesy.

There are many rules like these that we can learn from civilized countries. I think we must start learning them and putting them into practice. Driving or traveling on the road will be much less stressful and more pleasant.

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