One of the biggest apprehensions of a parent is when his or her child starts learning how to drive. While I had a much easier time teaching my now-22-year-old son to operate a car and come to grips with the harsh reality of Metro Manila driving (he’s into cars and a fast learner), the task of teaching my two late-teenage daughters is considerably more daunting.
Still, it’s a major (and unavoidable) step in their lives and towards their empowerment that I need to buckle down and give them the dirt on driving, Filipino-style. Here, then, are a dozen tips that they can apply to life on the road—and in life itself.
1. Never judge a book by its cover.
And never judge a person by what he or she drives. I have a colleague who drives a Toyota every day, but has a Jaguar and a Mini Cooper stashed away. He doesn’t even use them for events (he’s that low profile). In contrast, I was once feeling good about myself driving a Porsche Boxster test car to an event in Rockwell—only for a much faster and vastly more expensive Lamborghini to stop beside me at a traffic light. As Master Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn said in A Phantom Menace, “There’s always a bigger fish.” So don’t feel insecure when your friend or colleague is driving a nicer or more expensive car. Instead use that to inspire yourself to work harder (but not to the point that a nicer car is your only motivation).
2. Always signal your intentions.
Most misunderstandings come from miscommunication. And most accidents come from exactly the same thing—miscommunication. Whenever you’re driving, make sure your actions are always well-communicated, be they changing lanes or making a turn (use your signal lights), overtaking (flash your headlamps or give a quick beep of the horn, especially if the other driver seems oblivious to a car beside him or her), or braking (make sure your brake lights are in working order).
3. Learn from looking back.
You know the old Tagalog saying of, “Ang hindi tumitingin sa pinanggalingan ay hindi makakarating sa paroroonan.” That rings especially true on the road. Being aware of traffic around you is paramount to staying away from accidents—and ultimately getting to your destination. Sure, you need to focus on the road ahead, but regularly glancing at the rear- and side-view mirrors from time to time will keep you informed of other vehicles around you.
4. Respect the space between yourself and others.
We respectfully keep distance from others when we’re in public spaces. This is much more important on the road. Always leave margins for error for emergency maneuvers. The car ahead might brake all of a sudden. Or swerve to your lane just when you’re about to overtake. If a car is tailgating you too closely, pull over and let the car pass. Last thing you want is for that idiot to rear-end you in case you need to brake all of a sudden.
5. Never lose your focus.
Driving a car is like listening to a teacher in class. You might think you can get away with not paying attention, but you’ll pay for it with a low or failing grade—or an accident. Leave the Snapchatting to when you’re not driving. It’s illegal, after all. Even stuff like syncing your phone with the car’s audio system or programming Waze should be done before you drive off. And don’t even think about streaming Netflix!
6. Never take anything for granted.
Discretion is always the better part of valor. Always imagine the worst-case scenarios and you’d be better prepared for any eventuality. Cars parked along a sidewalk can hide a person about to cross the street—or worse, a kid about to run after a dog or a ball. Drivers or passengers of a stopped car can suddenly open their door. Cars parked can suddenly back out of their parking spaces. And never follow a jeepney with passengers hanging from the rear. It’ll be almost impossible for you to avoid that person if he falls off. Hitting or running over a person is probably the most traumatic thing a driver can ever experience. And can land you in jail even if it’s not your fault.
7. Have courage and be kind.
Without being too cocky, it pays to have a confident and assertive attitude on the road. Many accidents (or near-accidents) occur due to tentative or unsure driving practices of some, which end up confusing other drivers. That said, it also pays to give way, especially to pedestrians. That is why fully knowing one’s right of way before hitting the road should be every motorist’s mandate. Many road rage incidents could have been avoided if everyone knew their proper place on the road.
8. Never use your mouth more than your ears.
One of my favorite sayings is “You never learn anything while you’re talking.” Most of the learning we gain comes from watching and listening. On the road honking on the horn too much or too often is akin to too much talking. It stresses everyone else on the road and this stress will inevitably bounce back to you.
9. Keep a happy, positive attitude.
Driving in Metro Manila is one of the most stressful aspects of living in an overpopulated megacity. But it’s a necessary evil so we might as well make the most of it. Carpool with friends, classmates or colleagues to break the monotony of driving alone. A US study revealed that most road rage incidents occur with single-occupant vehicles. Leave with ample time to cope with traffic so you’re not stressed with making it to class, a meeting, or a date on time.
10. Music can be your best friend.
Related to No. 9 is music. If you have no choice but to drive by yourself with no company, then music is your best, um, accompaniment. If you really want to maximize by multi-tasking on long solo drives, listening to an audio book (fiction or self-help books) can do the trick. I know of someone who even learned a new language just by listening to instructional audio books while in traffic.
11. Never lose direction.
First-time drivers navigating the maze that is Metro Manila face a daunting task. Some roads seem to have been designed with no planning or thought. Most have poorly designed or no directional signs. You’re faced with undisciplined, arrogant, or ill-informed drivers—not to mention erring traffic enforcers—so you really need to be on top of your game. And don’t forget—Waze is your best friend.
12. Enjoy the ride.
Life presents all sorts of challenges. We succeed. We fail. But the best takeaway is that we learn from our experiences, positive and negative. And most important of all, even with the potholes of life, enjoy the ride!
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