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Driving

I had thought that the problems with traffic police in Colombo had eased over the years, what with stricter laws and better enforcement practices. Things used to get pretty nasty a few years ago. Police would stop you randomly, threaten to write you up, and then shake you down for a bribe. But now that the government is earning major revenue from traffic fines, cops are less able to take bribes – in the city at least.

But recently, much to my annoyance, I found out that it still goes on. Late at night, on Baseline road, a cop flagged me down after I crossed a traffic light. He asked me why I didn’t stop, but I was confused since I didn’t run a red light. He told me that I drove past a yellow light. I said yes. He asked me why I didn’t stop. I told him that it just turned yellow as I was passing it, if I had stopped I would have been in the middle of a junction. He then pocketed my licence (yes, he put it into his pocket) and directed me to some other cops. There were two other policemen in a squad car along with the traffic policemen. (I was under the impression that only traffic policemen could take your licence). They told me that they had to write a ticket, and had to send me to the courts, and that my licence was too faded. They also sent a cop to check out what kind of vehicle I was driving. They also asked me what I was going to do. (Dan mokadha karanne?) I then shrugged. I mean, what was I supposed to do? I hadn’t run a light. I also had only 100 rupees in my pockets. Seeing that they were getting nowhere with me, they just handed me my licence and I went on my way. By this time they had stopped 3 or 4 other vehicles all for running a yellow light.

It was all rather annoying and frustrating. It was like bullies pushing me into a corner and asking for my lunch money. These sort of things are very upsetting. You don’t have confidence in the law, you have no idea when they are going to spring a surprise on you and yet every day you see people get away with worse things just because they are well connected.

Just another joyous day in Colombo.

 

There is a certain amount of pushiness and a general disregard of personal space in Sri Lanka. It’s not there all the time but sprouts out like a particularly virulent mushroom when ever there is a queue or a line. And it only get worse when it comes to driving. I find it particularly prevalent among bikers and three-wheel drivers and I call it the wedge method.

Have you noticed how bikes and three-wheelers poke their front wheel into any available space between vehicles on the road? You tend to give a little way then because no one wants a bike or three-wheeler bumping against you, but as soon as there is an inch more of space they shove themselves further in and you have to swerve to avoid an accident. It’s worse with three-wheelers. I wonder if they even know how big their vehicle is because they right at the front of that ‘wedge’, and as soon as they get a little space its you who has to avoid the large rear-end that inevitably swings towards you. I think they count on the fact that you will give way instead of risking an accident.

It’s got to be something in the (city?) culture. Anytime you are in a line there is bound to be an elbow in your side or a hand on your back. It’s extremely annoying.