I have heard people talk as if driving in Sri Lanka is a uniquely terrifying experience and that Sri Lankan drivers are undisciplined, untrained, un-policed and reckless in the extreme. In order to unearth the truth of the matter, your correspondent has undertaken secret investigations at the Ministry of Transport and has discovered that a Highway Code does indeed exist, but never got published due to a decision by some long forgotten minister who apparently had a controlling interest in a funeral parlour.
Anyway, as always, the Hash brings you the most important information and here it is.
THE SRI LANKAN HIGHWAY CODE
A General Road Craft
- Drive on the left hand side of the road - but if you are only going a couple of hundred metres, use the other side if it's more convenient.
- Hooting your horn is recreational and a free form of expression. Enjoy it whenever possible.
- The motorist must retain his faith in the power of his horn to evaporate pedestrians and dissolve traffic snarl-ups.
- The roadworthiness of your vehicle is of paramount importance. To this end, the motorist must ensure that his horn is in working order. Brakes, tyres, steering, direction indicators, lights etc.; need not be functional and may be considered as optional extras. Windscreen wipers are not essential, but a palm frond can be useful in the heavier monsoonal storms.
- Road markings and traffic signs give Colombo a neat modern image and are not intended for the use of motorists, so ignore them.
- When out of town, drive on the crown of the road until you can see the whites of the approaching driver's eyes, then swing across briefly. (Visitors to the country are reminded that they should preferably swing across to the left, but this will of course depend on the immediate presence of potholes, cows, trishaws and a thousand other variables)
- Pedestrians have no right of way; sound your horn and chase them out of your path.
- Pedestrians are tolerated on pavements (!?) and road verges. However the motorist may re-assert his natural right to these areas whenever he wishes.
- Pedestrian crossings are painted on the road, only for the guidance of pedestrians. Motorists should ignore them.
C Cycles, Handcarts and Bullock Carts
- These contraptions can be a nuisance and scratch your vehicle's paintwork. The motorist should always remember that they are all operated by mere pedestrians and thus have no right of way.
- Do not be intimidated when entering a village packed from pavement to pavement with pedestrians and their contraptions. Hoot loudly and accelerate.
- If possible, do not slow down at an intersection. Never stop unless absolutely essential.
- If forced to stop, ensure that your vehicle obstructs both lanes of traffic.
- Never check the approaching traffic when turning into a road. This illustrates a basic principle of good driving: if you can't see it through the windshield, ignore it.
- Traffic lights are frequently switched off at night and over weekends, but at other times provide a source of colour and interest. Ignore them or they could distract you.
- When approaching an intersection to make a turn, always drive on the same side of the mad as you intend to take. Disregard the opposing traffic swerving around you.
- At roundabouts everyone has the right of way. Enter in any lane move into the middle and mingle as one would at a cocktail party. Here the motorist should hoot, swerve and play dodgems in the dense traffic until you have to turn off.
E Miscellaneous Hazards
- There are numerous natural hazards on the island's roads. Elephants are liable to turn right without looking or indicating and roads are full of errant children, wandering cattle, dogs (dead, alive or somewhere in between), the mad "U-turn" cyclist and macho bus drivers.
- A limp brown hand hanging out of the driver's window could mean that the driver is about to turn right (or left, or stop), but in any case usually means that they are about to do something. This signal should be accorded the same respect as hazard warning lights!
- Navigation can be problematic. it is really a process of establishing some known points and getting lost regularly. Don't panic-- just remember that you are somewhere between the mountains and the sea. Villagers will give you the directions that they think you want (not what you want) and will always do so with plenty of smiles and chatter. Remember most of them don't actually know where their own toilet is.