Merging Lanes

One car on the left goes in, one car on the right goes in. It doesn't matter who is faster. As long as we respect this simple rule, merging lanes is a breeze to handle in any traffic condition. Hard to fathom? Yes for me, at least till I experienced driving in Perth. (Note: this isn't about traffic volume, it is about drivers' attitude)

When I first encountered how the motorists in Perth do their merging on highway lanes, I was taken aback. The theory of merging looks like common sense on paper but seeing it in motion felt like well crafted poetry. It felt so seamless, so natural and beautiful. It felt like the locals had been doing that since the beginning of modern transporting. However, I was not blind to the fact that was probably not a given in every part of Australia. (I'm looking at you Sydney) Thus, I am appreciating what I (can still) enjoy here in Perth.

In a society where merging lanes means bringing your cars together centimetres to a grinding incident, I didn't enjoy my merging adventures on Clementi Ave 6 every morning during my driving days in Singapore. As an average Singapore asshole driver, I didn't flinch of course - until the chap with his well polished car decided he wasn't winning that pointless battle and should back off and live to fight another day.

Things like that were moments of fun entertainment during the gruelling, boring drive. I also showed no remorse cutting queues to get out of the highway. Selfishness begets selfishness. I am not making up excuses for myself but I'm saying this as-a-matter-of-factly - I did not start out as a bad driver. In fact, I was pretty good. Technically I was sound. Took lessons and got my driver's license within 2 months at first try, with 8 demerit points where 6 unfairly given.

So you see, this is where we go wrong. We live in a system where our competency is defined by something quantifiable. That by itself is not a problem. The problem is how we qualify what to quantify. If you drive day-to-day in Singapore, you will agree that there are too many out there who should not be qualified to drive a car not because of their poor handling of their vehicles but the terrible decisions that they make. Decisions that at best, annoys the hell out of other commuters and at worst, puts lives in danger. Such things are rarely discussed or even mentioned during the learning stage, be it in theory or practical.

As a driver from hell freshly graduated from Singapore roads, I was quickly reformed on Perth roads in less than a year. The great driving experience in Perth eventually allowed me to see the enjoyable part of driving. A lot of that, I found that, were attributed to how you are treated by other road users. A thumbs up, a wave, a signal to help you overtake, being given way without a grudge .... things like that doesn't just make your ride, it can even make your day. I was even given a hitch TWICE without even asking for it because they could see I was in 'trouble.'

When my Singaporean friends told me the commuting situation in Singapore is irreversible, I do not agree. Once upon a time I felt that there was no way Singaporeans would get on the MRT train in an orderly manner. However, since I left Singapore in 2011, I saw a positive difference during my later visits. It could take a much longer time to develop great driving etiquette in Singapore but it is far from impossible. The first step starts from education. It may be boring but it works. It will take time, a lot of time, to bear fruits but it will be well worth it.

LTA, being the relevant authority, must take the initiative to integrate the scope into the driving learning program. The emphasis for safety is well translated into the curriculum but etiquette is non existent, despite that it holds the key to a much more pleasant drive for everyone in the long run compared to the millions poured into hardware developing and building traffic regulating gantries. Hopefully one day, our authorities will prioritise what is right over what is profitable.

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