Friday, June 19, 2009

A Fat Hope: Look Jaywalker and Death Baiter

On a road not very far away, someone is attempting to cross it.

But wait! That is without the aid of traffic light crossing, an overhead pedestrian crossing, or a pedestrian underpass!

Boom! A cruising vehicle smashes into this person and the person is immediately reincarnated as non-PAP voter (only assuming that is a lower state of being).

Ace Kindred Cheong, a true ambassador of a good and gracious Singapore, recently wrote to the Straits Times Forum about a jaywalker who got injured after being hit by a car. Poor thing, I immediately thought.

Jaywalkers contribute a significant number of pedestrian accidents on our roads, I've read somewhere. As our cultural icon, not tourism board fabricated chimera of a Merlion, but Gurmit Singh's humorous portrayal of contractor Phua Chu Kang might say, ABUDEN? (similar to the popular western lingo 'duh?!')

A pedestrian is generally safe if they are not on road (but on the footpath). Duh?!

Yes, we have had serious and fatal accidents when cars enter the domain where they should not be entering, and that is beyond the curb and onto the pedestrian footpaths, or the bus-stop.

A sensational case years back involved a driver losing control of his car and the vehicle crashed into a bus-stop, where several persons were waiting. I cannot remember the details of the injuries.

However, the carnage continued when enraged passers-by took the driver out of his car and started exacting their own brand of justice on him. Even if we look back at the situation, both ways, everyone loses.

There are several issues concerning and relating to jaywalking in Singapore, and let's keep this discussion to the tiny red dot that the Taiwanese have baptised as insignificant nose snot or booger.

Let us turn our attention to the thing, whose numbers have created a face-smacking-the-palm rationale for more Electronic Road Pricing gantries. This thing is the wonderful 4-wheeler killing machine that is the car. Of course, a car is a car. But when you put a human being behind the wheel, technological neutralist and instrumentalist perspectives will make us believe that this machine will become a killer.

A significant number of Singaporean drivers probably represent a significant portion of stressed out workers. Perhaps zooming around, flooring the accelerator, bashing the horn and perforating the windshield with that middle finger are cathartic and not uncommon in many urban environments.

I too had my fair share of hearty laughter when I read that Singapore was recently ranked the 17th most livable cities in the world (from the Monocle). How can we be livable when at least one person kills him/herself everyday? How can we be livable when we have road rage?

I guess we are livable because we have Starbucks and Zara, which were reportedly used as measures.

Some Singaporean drivers have the tendency to accelerate when they see someone is trying to cross the road. No, they are not playing a Grand Theft Auto mission. Maybe it is the good feeling of being in control and in power and seeing the pedestrian scampering scared across the road. In real-time strategy gaming scenario, we would probably liken this to a heavy siege attack on an unarmoured unit, and the unarmoured unit will take more damage from siege attacks.

Among those who accelerate upon seeing the pedestrian attempting to cross the road, there are some who are able to adopt another task: Honking the horn.

The car horn to many Singaporean drivers is like rice to a China man - it is the staple and forms the core of your cultural identity. Some Singaporean drivers have the habit of testing the volume and duration of their car horns. Perhaps, they are conducting longitudinal controlled experiments testing the correlation between the intensity at which the palm slams the horn and the volume and sound quality of the horn.

The car horn is also a singular signifier which combines all the rage accumulated from two middle fingers, a few "fuck"s and their derivatives, and a pinch of Hokkien vaginae (the plural of vagina, by the way), preferably yeast-infected because the Hokkien love their vagina to be awful to the senses.

Unfortunately, car horns do not make pedestrians or other cars disappear. The gentle braking or the downshift, while being decent and safer options, could deserve greater consideration.

Jaywalkers ultimately have to look out for themselves. However, motorists should play their part by going a little bit slower when they see them.

Sometimes, it is not safe to be a pedestrian, even on the pedestrian footpaths. You have cyclists zipping to and fro, ringing their bells, and expecting you to get out their way. If etiquette is observed, a cyclist should either dismount and push, or find a way to give way to the pedestrian on the footpath. But that never happens. I have often secretly harboured the desire to clothesline cyclists off their bicycles or shove a branch into their wheel, just to silence them, for a bit (or forever), but unfortunately, the law prevents me from doing so. But I'll continue training my body, so when the day it is legalised, I will have strong enough arms to give those bell-ringing cyclists a stiff clothesline/lariat.

Pedestrians become jaywalkers when they cross the road without using any pedestrian crossing, much to the heartbreak of the Land Transport Authority and the road safety campaign. Correct me if I am wrong, I believe it is illegal to jaywalk within a certain distance of a designated pedestrian crossing. 50 metres? 100 metres? You will be fined (if caught).

Jaywalking varies across cultures, but they are all dangerous. Jaywalkers essentially have to look out for themselves.

Do not be dumb and attempt to cross the road when your view of the traffic is hindered. Oncoming motorists will also be unable to see you. For instance, you can probably not even see beyond 5 metres if you are attempting to cross a road from the front of a bus or large vehicle.

A jaywalker has to make the right and safe decisions. Be as visible as possible. Move at two speeds, steadily fast (constant speed) or increasingly fast (constant acceleration). Do not vary your speed by randomly slowing down or quickening your paces, or dance to and fro between the road lanes, as these will only confuse the motorists.

When in doubt, do not cross. Be patient. And if you have patience, you should be walking to a nearby pedestrian crossing and actually use it.

We often rationalise jaywalkers as lazy people, who choose to get to the other side of the road with minimal effort (but in life, that often works). We need to consider the elderly and those who are relatively physically weak or without assistance. These people have every right to get to the other side of the road like any one else. A little empathy from road rage or impatience stricken motorist could help here when these folks attempt to cross the road.

At the same time, these folks should be reasonable and have a little common sense and not cross the road when the traffic is heavy.

Another breed of jaywalkers are the able-bodied ones who take their time crossing. Perhaps they are on energy conservation, which explains their two-step-per-second stroll across the road. It is the stroll that courts motorist anger, and pedestrian danger.

These strolling jaywalkers are those who believe the pedestrian is king, and to an extent also fall into the bullying mindset that the paying customer knows best and is always right. The thick sense of self-righteousness belies their ignorance. However, it is a pity that these are the people who often escape injury and death.

The jaywalker should have a sense of urgency when crossing; and the motorist, on seeing the jaywalker, should play down his/her own sense of urgency. This is how we prevent non-accidental accidents. When a motorist accelerates upon seeing a jaywalker, it is to me an intent to commit murder, other than the intent to intimidate.

Non-accidental accidents can definitely be prevented. But thanks to irresponsible, ungracious and impatient people, lives are lost.

The problem with some Singaporeans is that they hate to give way. It almost appears as if they would require (re)payment in some form should they exhibit some degree of kindness or courtesy. It is not a question of graciousness, but just simple courtesy. You give way by letting things pass. The motorist gives way by not flooring the accelerator when he/she spots a jaywalker.

Giving way does not come at the expense of one's pride. Pride has no value. But in my case for the next couple of months, it is probably worth a Phuket trip.

Some Singaporeans behave as if when they give way to somebody else, it might set off a karmic chain of events and the human race will be wiped off the face of the earth. Or worse, these guys fear they might be seen as inferior, as poorer or becoming poorer in any possible way. They do not associate such perceived character feebleness with their position in society.

They look outwards and often assess what is wrong with others, e.g. what is wrong with the jaywalker or other motorists.

Given we are stepping out of the 1960s-80s paradigm of 'economic survivability' and entering a new paradigm of 'economic sustenance and growth', we leave no room for developing our characters and self-reflection/reflexivity. Perhaps reflexivity retards the singular-mindedness of the economic imperative, the tune to which most of us Singaporeans do the jiggy. And here we have, a futile campaign to promote graciousness in the area of commuting. When you add any colour to a sea of black, it remains black. In the end, we do not address the other domains of our lives (i.e. the political and economic) when we deal with graciousness in the social domain.

To some extent, most of us as so politically, socially and/or economic disempowered we do whatever we can within our means and opportunity to seek the joys and thrill of empowerment. Thanks to SPH's Stomp! we are able to relive the carefree days of playing police and thief or cops and robbers. That is also probably why, apart from slow and unreliable policing, some people take the law into their own hands and do what they do.

I too have jaywalked, but rarely across roads spanning 3 lanes or more. And when I am physically exhausted, I will still make the effort to use pedestrian crossings because funny things can happen when you are tired and not alert (a motorist could drive by, stop, wind down the window and tell you a bad joke).

In the wise words of Phua Chu Kang, "Use your brain."

And we can be a lot safer.

-Add-

Wow. I realised this is a rare post that does not exactly politicise jaywalking. I could have talked about socio-economic factors, architectural factors and welfare policies behind jaywalking, but I'm just happy to list them rather than elaborate. If you want to know more about this, go find another blog with 2,000 word entries to entertain you.

Today is Garfield's birthday by the way.

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