As I sit in my hotel room in Mollendo, I think back to my nights in the Amazon jungle. One of the highlights of my Peru trip, that I had been looking forward to, was to listen to the sounds of the jungle. Though we didn’t see much in the way of wildlife, the denizens of the jungle make themselves abundantly heard at night. It was like an ongoing orchestra: Insects, frogs, monkeys, birds and various mammals all pitched in. It’s quite soothing, especially since I didn’t have to worry about one of them coming to eat me.
But now I’m in a city, albeit not a very large one. The sounds coming through the window are not soothing. I estimate that roughly 90% of them are car-related. In the third world, people use their horns liberally. They use it for legitimate purposes, but also to express anger, to draw attention to themselves, to vent frustration or for no apparent reason at all. Signs in major Peruvian cities instruct drivers to keep quiet. This helps a little. Not enough in my opinion. I remember, while living in Israel, that it was said “Israeli drivers use their horns instead of their breaks.” I think this is probably true of all Mideastern countries and even most of the world. Immature drivers use their horns as a crutch to make up for their lack of courtesy and caution. The resulting noise pollution takes a heavy toll on the quality of life.
The automobile was invented by white men. It had come at a time when Western civilization had reached an advanced state of maturity (not that it was flawless). Western civilization was ready for the automobile; it was an age-appropriate toy. But I don’t think the other segments of mankind were ready for it when it was thrust upon them. For them, it’s not an age-appropriate toy. Bad things happen when people are given tools they are not culturally ready for.
Bad things almost happened to me yesterday while taking a private (AKA “illegal”) taxi from Arequipa to Mollendo. It was a harrowing experience. The driver drove at twice or thrice the speed limit, repeatedly passed in no-passing zones, was distracted by performing other tasks such as eating and habitually drove on the wrong side of the road to ease the curves on the mountain passes. I’m lucky to be alive and drivers like that have no business operating a motor vehicle.
Obviously nobody is going to take the automobile away from third-world societies. However, it would be a step in the right direction if governments were more aggressive in educating people about common decency and safety. I’m hopeful that, as the death-toll mounts, things will start to get safer. I’d like to think that third-world drivers will grow up some day and have more respect for those around them.