Saturday 23 November, 2013 by Uncle Spike
The first vehicle I ever ‘drove’ I guess was our family mini tractor. It was a mean machine and my claim to fame was smashing into one of my parent’s trees (as told in this post about my childhood). The second vehicle was either the neighbouring farm’s tractor or perhaps the Landrover which was used to feed the cows in winter – my job of a winters’ weekend morning was just to steer across the field as the farmer threw hay from the open back to a herd of following Friesians.
In terms of ‘cars’, my first proper driving experience was in a 4.2 litre V8 Daimler Sovereign automatic!!! I’d better not say anything about driving my mum’s green Peugeot estate/wagon coz Granny Spike might be nudging 80, but she follows this blog, so the Peugeot event “didn’t happen” – ok? As for the Daimler, well I was about 13 and worked weekends for a rich young couple who just wanted their car(s) regularly washed and polished and were surprisingly happy to let this young reprobate learn to control that glorious beast on the private roads of their estate – now THAT is definitely another story I’ll save for later…
Back to my driving. By the time I came to being of ‘legal age’, I was more into motorbikes than cars – they were not for ‘real men’, or so I believed at the time. Anyway, over the course of the next 30 years, I have owned and/or driven a multitude of bikes and cars, from a 3-wheeled Reliant Robin, to a V6 off-roader; and from single cylinder bikes to turbo-charged road-racers. I’ve not been particularly counting, but I would estimate that I have knocked up some 900,000 km or 560,000 miles in probably 18-20 countries on 4 continents. Sure, many folk have done masses more than that, and I’m not a particularly great driver, but what I can say is that I have seen a fair diversity of driving conditions, driving styles and with a host of different vehicles of one sort or another.
And the point of his post? Well, it follows on from a discussion with a fellow blogger, Andrew Petcher, about driving in Turkey, my adopted country of which I am a naturalized citizen. It got me thinking about driving here…. and how I absolutely love it!
Turkish drivers are, by reputation and nature, quite bonkers to say the least. Looking at the stats, our road fatality numbers are pretty dire (97.1 deaths per 100,000 vehicles) compared to say the UK (5.1), or the US (15). Saying that, again, I’ll reiterate… I love driving here.
Why, you may ask? Well, for me, it comes down to the difference between what I would term self-reliance and institutionalised correctness.
In the “west”, and by that I mean Northern Europe, Australasia and the US/Canada, the driving standards are generally very high indeed, with excellent driver education around for some 30-40 years. But if I’m honest, I think the driving culture is becoming, or has become, far too restricted and suffocating for my liking. Now I’m no anarchic rebel; I’m a decent chap deep down and a fervent supporter of decent driving standards, however sometimes it seems as though ‘rule obedience’ has overtaken ‘common sense’ and ‘driver decisioning’.
Let me elaborate… the UK, in particular has gone ‘signboard mad’, with warning and instructional road signs appearing so often that drivers are starting to have to ‘read’ their way around a town rather than actually ‘drive’. Long gone it would seem that the person behind the wheel is permitted to make their own decisions about how to tackle a certain stretch of road. Linked with that is an almost ‘un-educating’ of the driver populace with an over-reliance of this level of instruction almost disabling some drivers, especially the younger generation, from being able or at least practised at driving on their own recognisance.
I recall back a particularly bizarre event in the UK one early Sunday morning, at a very quiet traffic light controlled 3 junction intersection. The lights were out due to a power failure, but even though the traffic was minimal, and I mean no more than 5 cars at or near the junction, nobody seemed to have a clue at how to proceed. In fact, drivers just stopped and one even got out at said to another “What do we do now?” It was actually quite sad. Sure, they were interested in driving safely I guess, but to me it showed up a bizarre trait that I had seen too many times, that the ‘system’ has left drivers unskilled in the practise of driving; almost unable to make their own decisions.
What made the observation all the more apparent was that, being an area of diverse population, having seen wide scale immigration from Asian countries, was how the immigrant population just made their decisions on the fly, whipped round the obstacles, and carried on regardless – safely, but surely.
And that brings me to Turkey. In terms of driving standards and driver education in particular, I would say it’s pretty dire, I admit that. The average Turk has little or no regard for road laws, other road users or even their own safety much of the time; hence our appalling road safety record. But by and large, it’s not their fault. Driver education is improving, slowly… but it is still a far cry from the ‘developed world’. Road tests are still just a few minutes driving from A to B with a couple of obstacles like a junctıon and a basic parking manoeuvre. My wife got her license after only haven driven not more than a couple of km! I’ll add now that she has since been schooled intensively and is probably one of the better drivers in the country.
So in light of a lack of driver education, and a lax ‘culture’ of driver safety and road law awareness, Turkish drivers still drive very much on their own recognisance, albeit rather dangerously so.
However, having been instilled with very much British standards of driver education for both cars and motorbikes, including some Advanced Driver stuff, I relish what I find here as the long lost ‘freedom of the road’ that seems to have long disappeared in the west. You need your wits about you every second driving here, why? Well put simply, you haven’t a clue what other road users or even pedestrians will do next. Taxi drivers will drive the wrong way down one-way streets, so will the police come to that. You’ll see 3-4 people on one small motorbike, massively overladen trucks, undertaking at high speed, zero lane control and light-jumpers galore.
So as you drive here, you concentrate, you think, you make decisions, and you use almost every feature of your vehicle (like horn, lights, anti-lock brakes) far more than in the West. In the cities it’s like a legalised form of dodgems, but I love driving through downtown Ankara – it’s mad but I relish the challenge I guess. Out here in the country, with not much traffic, it’s different again, but instead of mad taxi’s we have goats, tractors and fat old men on mopeds heading the wrong way along a dual carriageway (simply because they will not change their route after the ‘big road’ goes through). Driving here makes one rely on skill… and a little prayer. You have to adapt to every area you drive through as quick as lightening, or if not, you’ll become one of the statistics. Even still, I now see why ‘foreigners’ on their jollies get into so much strife in their rental cars…
I’ve not been in the UK for quite a few years now, and perhaps I shouldn’t even attempt to drive there if I ever went – I would probably be a menace to society and get myself arrested by the traffic cops within the first few hours!