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Jeanette Khan

Jeanette Khan

Posted: November 18, 2008 05:08 AM

Driving in Pakistan: Can You Handle It?


Driving in Pakistan is like purposely courting death. Vehicles whiz by right and left without paying much attention to others.

It's a very common sight to see Mercedes driving next to donkey carts, fast motorcycles next to buses full of people, and huge jeeps next to tiny rickshaws.

There is this perception that people in Pakistan ride on camels or donkeys. I have never ridden on a donkey, though I do know some people who have.

Here people drive on the left side of the road because Pakistan is a former British colony. Though, sometimes, people prefer to drive on the right-side of the road. I have seen cars, motorcycles, and bikes going the wrong way. Despite the number of horns blaring at them, the drivers really don't care they're going the wrong way.

There really are no rules for driving here. Yes, there are laws, but people often do as they please. For example, even if there are demarcated lanes, people don't stay in them. There are traffic police, but they can't control everyone, especially during rush hours.

As in other countries, not everyone uses their blinkers, but it's more dangerous here. One day I was going home from the market with my driver and my aunt. We indicated that we were going to turn left, when out of nowhere the car in front of us swerved to the right, trying to get over so he could go straight. He apparently saw the light was green and decided he wanted to straight instead of turning left to avoid a traffic jam. Our driver slammed on the breaks to avoid hitting him. There was nothing we could do, but yell, "Idiot."

A person's socio-economic status often dictates their driving style. Lower-income people tend to ride on crowded buses, bikes, or motorcycles. Middle-income people tend to drive older Suzuki's and Hyundai's, while the upper middle class tend drive newer models Hondas or Toyotas, and the extremely wealthy ride in Mercedes and BMWs. The middle class, upper middle class and extremely wealthy have drivers. Some even have two or three drivers.

There are more motorcycles on the road than any other vehicle. Most are made by Honda or Yamaha and are red and black with a bit of bright blue. Most people cover the gas tank with cloths to prevent getting burned from the heat of the tank.

Motorcycles are made for one to two people, but here it's common to see a whole family riding on a bike. First sits a young child, followed by the father, then another child, the mother, and finally another older child in the back. I have even seen four grown men on one motorcycle. Although both men and women drive in Pakistan, I have never seen a woman riding a bike alone.

The bikes weave in and out of traffic, sometimes without even looking to see if there are any cars in front or beside them. One day, on the way to pick up my cousins from school, a motorcycle side-swiped our car. The bike had three people riding on it and was attempting to move to the far left side of the road. The motorcycle slipped on the slick, dust-covered road and a woman fell off. We didn't stop the car, though my aunt wanted to, because men would've stopped and stared given that it was a female driver. I think motorcyclists tend to be the most erratic drivers, but they're also the ones you have to watch out for the most.

Car drivers are just as crazy. On quite a few occasions I've seen a line of cars going up a one-way street. Last week I was in Main Market Gulberg in Lahore, when a line of cars drove up the wrong way. My driver started honking the horn and yelling for the other cars to back up. I told him there wasn't anything we could do, so just be patient. We waited for a few cars to pass, and then we slid past the rest of the cars going the wrong way. I closed my eyes. The road was so narrow; I was scared we were going to hit another car. I told the driver "I'm closing my eyes" in Urdu. He told me to not worry, he's a good driver. He is a good driver, but I still kept my eyes closed.

The buses that people ride on are very crowded, almost like a New York subway car at rush hour. There are big colorful buses and small white economy sized vans. Laborers and house workers ride the buses to work; students take college-specific buses to school. Most of the time the women sit up front in the passenger seats, while the men will sit in the back.

Rickshaws are the most interesting of all vehicles in Pakistan. They are three-wheeled motorized vehicles. Basically it looks like a motorcycle with seats in the back and a roof on top. Legally, only three people are allowed to sit in a rickshaw at a time, but during rush hour I have seen six or seven people sitting in one. I've never personally ridden in a rickshaw, but have wanted to for years. I tried to ride in one a few years ago, but got too scared and got out. It's just so different from anything I've ever ridden in. Many people use rickshaws as taxis to get to and from school or work. Many students work out a deal with the rickshaw drivers to take them from their house to school; they pay the drivers either weekly or monthly.

I've never driven in Pakistan myself, and I'm not quite sure I'm ready to try. I need to conquer my fear of riding in a rickshaw first! But if a person can survive driving and riding in Pakistan, they can survive driving and riding anywhere.