Have you ever said in frustration, "That idiot must think he owns the road!" Well, in Cambodia, the rich and powerful do own the road. Red lights mean nothing to them. In fact, red lights don't mean much to most people here, especially not the rich. Not only do red lights mean nothing, people don't mean very much either. Now, I must be careful not to paint with too broad of a brush here. But I will say without reservation that a good percentage of those who have some position in government, or those who are in the wealthy minority, in the event that they hit someone- be it another car, a person on a moto, or a pedestrian- they would not even bat an eye. When a hit and run incident occurs in America, the police conduct an extensive investigation, and do everything in their power to find the perpetrator. That is not the case in Cambodia. In fact, in Cambodia, you wouldn't even call it a hit and run; it is more like a "hit and go about your day like nothing happened." There are no forensic specialists that come in and investigate the scene of the crime. Even if the police were to track down the careless driver, it would only take a bribe of a few thousand dollars to ensure the guilty party's freedom. So, needless to say, cars and SUV's always- I repeat, always- have the right of way, regardless of what any traffic light or sign says.
While the rich and powerful dominate the roads by virtue of their wealth and position, truck drivers dominate the roads by virtue of their sheer size. The drivers of these large vehicles definitely allow the fact that they are the largest force on the road to get to their heads. But the fact that most of these guys can't afford to pay a large bribe keeps them from driving with complete disregard for human life. But they still have a way of throwing their weight around. I'll just say this: when I am driving my moto near one of these work trucks, I'm not thinking, "Well, if you hit me and kill me, you're not going to be able to pay your way out of it, so I'm not budging." I would rather just stay alive if possible.
Besides having to guard yourself from the absolute reckless driving of the wealthy, and the "traffic bullying" of the large trucks, you have to also be careful about other moto drivers. Here are a few things things I am learning about "moto etiquette":
- First, since I am a foreigner, any accident that I am involved in is my fault, even if it's not my fault.
- According to the way the Khmers drive, it is always better to just pull out in front of another moto and make him slam on his brakes, than to wait for a break in traffic.
- Right side of the street, left side of the street, with the flow of traffic, against the flow of traffic- none of this matters as long as you can get where you want to go without getting hit or hitting someone.
In America, I did not get butterflies in my stomach and nervous shakes before I took the minivan for a spin. Here, every time I go somewhere on the moto, be it one block away or one mile away, I get both. I'm still adjusting.