Driving in Mauritius: Welcome to Anarchist Pinokioland, aka Paradise Island!

What’s your beef? Mine is…

By Ramesh Beeharry

You would have to be living on another planet not to have noticed the abominable behaviour and the regularly carnage on our roads. In my lifetime I have lived in several countries, but nowhere have I seen worse driving than Mauritius… not even in African countries!

For the year 2017, there were 152 fatal accidents in Mauritius for a population of 1.3m. In themselves these figures may not seem very much; until we put them into perspective. Thus if the Mauritian population were the same size as that of UK (66.5m), we would have a massive 7775 deaths on our roads compared to the actual UK figure of 1793. That’s how bad it gets!

Basics. Watching Mauritians drive one has the impression that many of them have never read the Highway Code. Thus it is not rare to see motorbikes being ridden the wrong way up the motorway, or pedestrians walking right across it rather than use the footbridge a few yards away! Driving up a one-way street seems to come naturally to some drivers wishing to avoid going round the block. And if you do not wish intimate parts of your mother’s anatomy described in public, it is best to refrain from pointing out these serious breaches to these capricious cretins. Welcome to Anarchist Pinokioland, aka Paradise Island!

RDA/ Traffic Management and Road Safety Unit. I don’t know on what criteria the MoT picks the staff of this important Unit but, seeing the poor traffic management on many of our roads, it looks as though they could well do with a sabbatical to learn anew the rudiments of traffic management.

I shall not dwell on the hundreds of infractions across the Island, but will just give as example the couple of Km of surgical roadwork being performed on the pompously named Terre-Rouge/Verdun Motorway. If there is a worse example of signage, twists, turns without appropriate or confusing, contradictory road signs and warnings, this has to take the biscuit! I sometimes take this road to visit family up North during daytime, but wouldn’t dare at night. It is just as well that it is closed to traffic at night!

Courtesy. Everybody has heard of the legendary British courtesy. It is not a joke when people tell you that they are probably the only race who apologise to someone who bumps into them; and spend minutes saying “after you” at a doorway. Over here people are apt to slam the said door in your face.

Unfortunately our bad manners get carried into our cars; only worse. So, for the British using their indicators when turning left/right/stopping/overtaking or joining/leaving the motorway comes naturally. Under other circumstances when someone flashes their headlights at you, it means that they are giving way — like allowing you to come out of a side road or waiting for you at a passing point on a single-lane mountain road. The beauty of this unofficial code is that everyone knows what it stands for, so it works perfectly well.

Now you can almost guess what happens to a driver who is accustomed to such considerate behaviour when he starts driving in Mauritius. Someone flashes their headlights at him and he obviously proceeds forward, only to find that they are driving straight at him. Consequence: many a time he finds himself in a newly-planted sugar cane field, profusely thanking heaven it was not worse. Yet a little courtesy costs nothing, but makes for safe and pleasant driving for everyone.

Road Hogs. The Highway Code book tells us that, on the motorway, the inside lane is for normal driving, the second lane is for overtaking and the third lane, which is known as the fast lane, is also used for overtaking when the first two lanes are occupied. Normally once a driver has overtaken a slower moving vehicle, he is supposed to return to the inside lane. But there is a breed who think that it is their God-given right to stay in the overtaking lane all the way from Grand-Bay to Plaine-Magnien at 40km an hour! And there is no point flashing at them; they never use their rear-view mirrors!

Alcohol. Because of a few drunkards who drink and drive, alcohol has got a bad press. I am not going to make any apologies for anyone who drinks and drives. But I do not think that a moderate amount is such a big deal. Let’s be honest; in our younger days most of us have taken to the wheel after partaking of a quick beer with friends and are still here to tell the tale.

A moderate amount of alcohol is not such a problem. It becomes a major, major problem when it is mixed with youth and excessive speed! It is no coincidence that many fatal accidents involve young drivers. GM is to be congratulated for installing the much maligned speed camera; they should install more of them! The Safe City project also gets my vote.

Speed. Drive like ‘actere’, die like bandit. Lest anyone thinks that I am being unsympathetic, let me straightaway reassure them that I have every sympathy for bereaved parents whose lives are shattered, and will never be the same again following the tragic death of their young offsprings. But the undeniable fact is that serious accidents are rarely caused by older drivers.

It would seem that dangerous driving has now become the norm. Every time you get onto the highway you are bound to come across some numbskulls in a hurry who weave in and out from lane to lane at breakneck speed. Others think they are budding Schumachers and Fittipaldis. They race each other at high speed, shifting lanes abruptly as they zigzag between vehicles. This is bound to end in a horrible disaster some day.

That’s when the highway police will probably take some action against these menaces. Meanwhile they are happy harassing the little man riding his moped at the breakneck speed of 25km an hour!

Driving Licence. Rumour has it that, in the old days, people with money and influence used to receive their Driving Licence by post. Watching people drive nowadays gives one the impression that everybody get theirs delivered by the postman now. In spite of the long queues for driving tests at the Casernes, no one seems to have been rigorously tested for their driving ability!

Driving Test. In order to weed out all the psychopaths that are to be found creating mayhem on the roads, the current driving test needs to be overhauled. Thus besides the oral and the practical tests, we must envisage introducing a psychological test also. This would ensure only those who are fit to sit behind a steering wheel will receive a driving licence. This may sound draconian to some but, for the majority, it would make for safer roads. Dare the authorities bell this cat?

* Published in print edition on 5 April 2019

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