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Driving in Countries Where the Rules of the Road are Ignored

If you may be watching more television than usual over the next week or two, you may want to consider the two-season Canadian series Don’t Drive Here.  It’s a documentary on the Discovery Channel that is part travelogue and part ‘how to’ drive weird and often not so wonderful two-, three-, four- and more-wheeled vehicles in some of the most traffic congested, road-rules-free cities around the world.

The program has impressed some commentators and reviewers as humorous in a Canadian sort of way.  No doubt this has a lot to do with the host, the exuberant Andrew Younghusband whose antics that are fun to watch.  He sweeps you up into his quest to try and learn to drive like a local in cities that top the lists of worst places to drive in the world.  In these places most tourists with any interest in self-preservation must by sheer effort of will resign themselves to being driven. Trying to do what Mr. Younghusband does is unthinkable.  Hence the suggestion: Don’t Drive Here …okay, but just watch me try it!

Otherwise it is difficult to see the humour in the conditions you will see and vicariously experience.  And the way in which these conditions are described and revealed and explored is puzzling.  The underlying premise is that driving in these cities is extremely risky and unsafe in comparison with driving in our cities, but then, instead of challenging this premise by modeling at least an attempt at safe driving, Mr. Younghusband invariably succeeds and survives by adapting. This makes for some hair-raising moments.

In Rome, for example Mr. Younghusband interviews underage—at least by our licensing standards—drivers through the open windows of their cars while he is riding alongside them on a motorcycle.  If you are the least concerned about the huge potential for any such side by side motoring chat to end disastrously, it’s hard to focus on the substance of the interview.

Enough of this sort of thing and you start to feel that, paradoxically enough, the show somehow manages to present an alternative to our back-at-home risk-averse, strictly controlled use of our roadways.  You may find yourself wondering whether we are missing something in abstaining from driving like a madman.  But then, when the really sour note is hit and disaster ensues in traffic, the demand for safe driving is seen as incontrovertible.  For example, a chat with a taxi driver about how many people he has seen killed on the road—“That many?”— put in sharp focus that what we are seeing is errant behavior.

Don’t Drive Here is a species of ‘Reality TV’ and partakes of all the usual strangeness of this genre – perhaps repulsive, but also fascinating.  Perhaps you can’t take your eyes of the obvious lunacy.  Are you learning anything the least bit helpful to your day-to-day life experience?  This is reality after all, as recorded and edited by a filmmaker.  Shouldn’t there be some life lesson that justifies watching this sort of program?  One answer is that with regard to a crazy driving documentary that focuses on other parts of the world, we are reminded to be grateful that we live in a country that generally has reasonable laws that are enforced fairly. 

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