There’s this really cool phenomenon I’ve noticed since I’ve come to Dubai called the driver-pedestrian nod. I feel like this happens in countries where there is mutual respect for the lives of both drivers and creatures crossing the road. By which I don’t just mean humans, but also every other form of living being crossing the road. I’d also like to insert another condition to this phenomenon. It works best where there is a respect for the noise levels and general sound pollution in any given space, and a culture that wishes to protect the ears of all bystanders in the best possible way. Basically no honking. Essentially, I don’t think this works as well in Bangalore. While I might be biased, I’ve driven on those roads (recently) and I frequently jaywalk (with several others), so I know why people hate pedestrians, and people generally dislike drivers.
It works so well in Dubai though.
I think this stems from the driving culture over here. The process of getting a license is ridiculously strict – people have to enroll with institutions which are Government approved, subject to which there is a fixed curricula of sorts (in terms of how many classes you take, what sort of classes they are, how many road hours you need, how many solo road hours you need) after which you give the test. Your first three attempts are on a single payment, because people usually fail atleast twice. There’s a discipline to the driving instruction and the driving here, and the fines for breaking the law are nuts. Nobody dares to do it. In addition to that, on the pedestrian side, the fine for jaywalking is ridiculous too. Nobody’s going to do that either. There are also distinctly marked pedestrian crossings which are constructed very close to each other – maybe at most, 1 kilometer apart, so you’ll definitely find a crossing spot for yourself.
All of this has resulted in the default rule of pedestrians having right of way.
Where there is confusion, however, pedestrians turn to face the driver, who then nods and gestures with the hand that’s on the steering wheel: very calmly signalling to cross. That’s the phenomenon to which I refer. It’s so powerful. In one singular gesticulation, the driver communicates so much. “I respect your life. I am in a hurry, but you are in a hurry too. You have the right of way. I can continue driving because I am likely to reach my destination quicker than you. This is despite the heat outside and my general frustration with the traffic. I will not redirect my anger at you. Instead I will drink water as you cross. And then move.”
However, pedestrians here don’t seem to care where drivers let them by.
As a result, I have instituted the pedestrian-driver nod.
Wherever someone gives me the right of way, I turn to them, smile, and nod. It’s equally powerful, and it communicates so much to them.
“Thank you for not running over me. Thank you for not moving as soon as I moved one inch away from your car. Thank you for not hitting my ankles with your tyres.”