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The Unofficial Highway Code to Driving in Sarawak

Wayne Tarman Offers Some Comments on Driving
in Malaysia and A few Tips for driving in Sarawak

"Malaysians are undoubtedly some of the friendliest people on earth. Warm, caring, polite are just some of the words that spring to mind and most foreign visitors experience at first hand the warmth and caring nature that Malaysians are justifiably famous for. But after spending a few years in Malaysia there is one thing that I just can't fathom out - Malaysian drivers. Why do a significant number of Malaysians transform into lunatics the moment they enter their cars? Once at the wheel an ugly streak often appears and an otherwise caring Malaysian turns into a reckless road beast, intent on causing harm as he or she goes about their selfish road manoeuvres.

Driving styles obviously differ from country to country. A few hours on the road is usually enough to work out the differences and realise that your home country's driving habits are no better than those of the place you are in. Different local road conditions require slightly different driving methods. This is also true for Malaysia, but accident statistics suggest that standards of driving in Malaysian need to be improved. Malaysia has one of the worst road safety records on the planet. Admittedly, the high number of motorcyclists on Malaysian roads makes comparisons with other countries somewhat difficult but even the government ministers acknowledges that many Malaysian drivers are road monsters.

OK, I open myself up to abuse from those Malaysians who think that whenever a foreigner says anything remotely negative about Malaysia they are trying to knock the country. Not true, I love Malaysia but I absolutely detest driving on Malaysian roads. Malaysia does not have 'car nappings' (South Africa), gun hold-ups at traffic lights (USA) or frequent 'road rage' incidents (UK) so foreign drivers don't have to worry about these sort of nightmares. However there are some bizarre driving habits and it pays to anticipate some of the lunatic moves that drivers in Malaysia are so fond of executing.

The following Unofficial Highway Code, drawn up over a bowl of laksa by myself and some Sarawakian friends, may be of help to newcomers. Seeing as this is a Sarawak web site this code focuses on driving in Sarawak and not Malaysia as a whole. Thankfully, driving in Sarawak is less stressful than driving in places like Kuala Lumpur where the traffic jams are a nightmare and everyone is stressed silly from their continual pursuit of yuppie status.

Keep a reference copy of these tips and facts tucked away in your glove compartment. If you are driving with a friends why not record unusual road behaviour as you drive. Within 30 minutes you should have ticked off most the points listed.

The Unofficial Highway Code - 15 Rules or Tips For Driving In Sarawak

1. Traffic Lights
Slightly different rules apply.
Green = Go but as slow as possible.
Orange = Go as fast as possible
Red = Have a quick look and then go

2. Yellow Lines
Contrary to popular belief these are not 'No Parking' zones. They normally indicate the location of a particularly fine Sarawak Laksa stall. In Kuching, yellow lines, numerous parked cars and Sarawak laksa are found within meters of each other. If you don't believe me drive along Ban Hock Road one morning.

3. Overtaking
Do this on the inside without using indicators (see below)

4. Indicators
Never use them.

5. Sunday Drivers
Watch out for these slow movers. Every country has its Sunday drivers but Sarawak has a particularly large population of them, and what's more they drive everyday.

6. Accidents 1
If you see an accident remember the Unofficial Highway Code dictates that drivers must slow down to a crawl, stare at the crash scene and do everything in their power to cause another accident. Knowledge of this rule helps significantly in avoiding participation in any knock-on crash. (Quick tip: Keep one eye on the rear mirror, when the driver behind you looks sideways to view the accident, get ready to hit the horn to stop him kissing your rear bumper)

7. Accidents 2
So why do drivers in Sarawak behave so erratically upon seeing an accident? Simple. To obtain an auspicious 4D Lottery number. An understanding of Chinese culture helps explain this one away. If a car has been involved in an accident is has had its fair share of bad luck and should be in for some good luck soon. Therefore why not take down that number plate and head to the nearest 4D shop to buy a lotto ticket. Sounds crazy but I know many a stupid Ang Moh that follows this local practice. When in Rome...

8. Police Road Blocks
Don't be alarmed if you are driving along and come to a road block that looks like something out of Jackie Chan movie, i.e. a lot of police and a lot of guns. Malaysian police are armed and like policemen anywhere in the world they do like to work in big groups. A foreigner will probably just get waved through. If you are stopped, the policeman may ask for a quick look at your license and then quickly move on to asking you which football team you support. Seeing as 50% of Malaysians are Manchester United supporters there's no harm in sometimes becoming a temporary Man U fan. After a quick chat you'll be on your way.

9. Pedestrian/Zebra Crossings
Good News here. Sarawak is the only place in Malaysia where motorists actually stop for pedestrians when the little green man says it's time to walk. Try that in Kuala Lumpur and you are likely to be rammed.

10. Motorcyclists
Beware of these nutters. 99.99 % have a death wish and 100% have an annoying habit of performing death-defying slalom-type manoeuvres, weaving in and out of cars until one day they meet their maker.

11. Cars With No Visible Driver
If you spot a car that is cruising along without a driver, don't be alarmed but do keep a safe distance. Look closely and you will actually see a pair of shrivelled, prune-like hands grasping the wheel and perhaps a tiny old lady sitting in the front seat. If she is wearing glasses then keep your distance, if not then change down a gear and give it 6,000 revs to get away from this blind midget who should not be allowed on the roads without an additional cushion on the seat and a good pair of strong specs.

12. Hondas
If you spot a Honda in your rear window, watch out. These cars are popular with the local Boy Racers, perhaps the most reckless drivers in the world. Only relax after the young pup of a driver has gunned his engine, swerved past you and raced off. If the Honda has stripes, a body kit, the window down and cigarette-wielding tattooed hand poking out, then avoid direct eye-contact as half the samsengs (gangsters) in Kuching use jazzed up Hondas.

13. Always Expect The Worse At Junctions
If you are approaching a junction and have the right of way, always bear in mind that the car waiting at the junction is only waiting there until you are 20 feet away. As you approach it will come charging into your path. Forward planning is the key. Always expect the worst.

14. Lizards, Snakes, Dogs & Assorted Wildlife
On a trip up country its wise to keep a look out for animals on the road. On one trip from Kuching to Sibu with a friend at the wheel we unintentionally managed to wipe out a range of wildlife. The body count including two stupid birds which flew into the windscreen, one snake, a jumbo-sized frog, the slowest moving monitor lizard in Borneo and two incredibly scabby dogs that were in the middle of the road bonking silly (what a way to go). The last collision was particularly sad or funny depending on how sick you are. A blast of the horn gave some advance warning but these two dogs were glued together and could not separate until my friend's Suzuki jeep ploughed into them.

15. Purpose Built Car Parks
Always empty as most drivers prefer to save a couple of bucks and park illegally.

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