The Story of a Reformed Singaporean Driver

Photo by Thomas Lim
The other day when I finally needed to tap my honk, I fumbled to find the button. When I eventually positioned my thumb on it, the situation didn't require of it anymore.

Thomas Lim
7 April 2015

The Story of a Reformed Singaporean Driver

Recently, I watched a video clip titled “Giving Way Via Road Courtesy” on the Singapore Reckless Drivers Community Facebook page. I thought that is a good initiative created by some kind soul to promote road courtesy in Singapore. And I start to wonder why I haven’t seen such video clips about road courtesy in Australia, which prompted me to write for the first time as a guest blog (I still prefer to take photo than write type) on A Singaporean In Australia’s blog.

I started driving in Singapore from 1993, from passenger car to commercial vehicle (van and lorry) and as a taxi driver for a few months. I have been telling my friends that driving in Australia is so much enjoyable and I don’t think I will ever drive again in Singapore. This has nothing to do with the green grass or blue-sky theory, merely a difference in culture and trusts among road users.

Generally, road rules are the same in Australia and Singapore, we all drive on the left side of the road. As long as you have a valid driver’s license issued in Singapore, you will be able to drive in Australia. So how different can it be driving in both countries? With just 3 years of experience driving in Victoria, some holiday driving in Central Queensland and Tasmania, my views cannot represent the majority of the Singaporean drivers in Australia, but definitely I can tell the differences having drove in Singapore for coming to 20 years.

I’m not going to say Australians are all gentlemen on the road, there are road rages, hit and run, drink driving and speeding just like any other country in the world. And the chances of crossing a railway track is higher than seeing a traffic police car on the road. But I have to admit the drivers’ tolerance level is much higher than most in Singapore. And I strongly believe that good driving ethics are a result from sense of morality, things we teach our kids in moral education in school. So I will just break it down in the following pointers and you can judge it yourself.

Giving Way

Giving way is a norm that its not even news worthy here. Whether you are a driver, reversing out of a parking lot, entering into the main street or as a pedestrian waiting to cross the road, the chances of other road users giving way to you is extremely high. Never mind who has the right of way, no one is going to penalize or horn at you for giving way to another road user. Just make sure you consider the safety for yourself and other road users before doing it. A gesture of appreciation like a thank you wave or thumbs up happens most of the time, it’s a good way to acknowledge a good practice and creates a feel-good effect for everyone.

Public Transport and Emergency Vehicles

With or without the right of way, buses get to go first. Think of it this way, its better for you than the whole load of passengers on the bus to be late for school or work. Make sense? Buses don’t run as regularly as Singapore’s, however they are most likely to be on time because every road users play a part.

As for emergency vehicles, when lights and siren are visible, it means they are responding to a life threatening case. So it makes sense that you should give way to them, of course with due care. You are not allow to break traffic rules when giving way to emergency vehicle, for example running a red light, however merging left or right, depending on the position of the emergency vehicle will be of great help. Just follow what everyone else is doing and you could save a life. Not sure about other states but in Victoria, I had seen emergency vehicles travel on the opposite direction of the road and everyone just moved left and stop, allowing precious time saved by the responding team. If everyone stops for a few seconds, it could save the emergency vehicle minutes on the road. And seriously, I seldom see cars racing behind emergency vehicle trying to over take everyone.

You can watch and learn here:

High beam and honking

I can’t remember when was the last time I had used the high beam or car horn to warn other road users that I owned the road. I think I have totally lost that “limpeh” mindset in Australia. I still recalled my driving in Singapore, high beaming that bugger, who travelled at 80km/h on the extreme right lane on an expressway, long and loud blasting horn for that “tiong-chia” trying to cut into my queue or that “chio-bu” doing her makeup at the traffic light when it turn green.

In Australia, I have learnt that high beam is used to give way more than a warning. It is like “alright mate! I’m giving way to you, go ahead”. If you are driving in regional area or interstate on a highway, high beam from the vehicle on the opposite direction is used as a warning that you are going to encounter some type of hazard further along the road. It could be stock on the road, an oversize load, an accident or even a police speed trap.

My car horn is like a car accessory, factory fitted but rarely use. Maybe just once or twice a month, short and sweet horns to wake up that day dreaming drivers at the traffic light. In most case, an apologetic hand gesture was shown, never a “WTF?” or manhood gesture. I always gave a 4-5 seconds extra time for them to wake up from whatever they are doing, if they didn't response within this time frame, they had fallen asleep. So I have no choice but to execute the courtesy horn.

Speed Limit

On my navigation system, it always warns me whenever I exceed the speed limit while driving. This is the second best feature I found on my Garmin, first was to guide me to my destination of course.

Speed limits are there for a reason, so that you will be able to stop your vehicle in time in an emergency. I would just share one experience that happens to myself while driving. I was on the road heading home driving within the speed limit of 50km/h in a suburban area, there was no vehicle in front of me but there was a line behind. Out of nowhere, a puppy race out between two cars parked at the side with its owner, a young girl chasing behind with both hand in the air telling everyone to stop. I managed to stop my car in time, so did those behind me, as well as many on the opposite direction. When you saw the relieved face of the owner hugging her puppy, you really understand why speed limit save lives.


To sums up everything, patience is one of the key reasons why driving in Australia is so enjoyable. You are patience enough to give way to others, you are patience enough not to vent your anger with high beam and honking, you are patient enough not to speed. Gone were the days when my mindset was “if you can’t win them, join them”. Gone were the days when someone tailgated me, I must step on the brakes. Gone were the days when someone cut into my lane, the whole neighbourhood will be awaked by my car horn.

Most of us would have remember Road Safety Park in East Coast, the one day trip where we were all assigned to a role (driver/cyclist/pedestrian) based on the popularity with our teachers, I wasn’t the popular kid in school so I got to be a pedestrian walking blindly to create hazard for those cyclists and drivers. Did I learn anything from it? I can’t remember. But I do remember our courtesy campaign, with a lion as its mascot. Yes, a lion. I hope they will change it to a stray cat, its more friendly at the very least.

In a first world country like Singapore, what could be the reason for this bad-driving culture? Stress level? Sky-high car price? Overpopulation? Or the education? I let you decide. We are trained to compete in life, for better house, better car and better job. We teach our young to compete with one another, be the best in class and later on, be the best in everything you do. And now, we are competing with fellow road users, to see who can reach home safely in one piece.

You can disagree with my points, you should have your own views and I respect that, after all, it’s part of the Singapore culture that will last for many years to come.

1 comment:

  1. I drive the taxi meaning I'm on the roads for many hours. I've seen so many accidents on our roads. In fact everyday there's an accident here. I just don't understand why with so many cameras n police officers on ambush yet we still have so many accidents. Try goggle taxi accidents images and you will know what I'm talking. Sigh!