Traffic problems: Can we learn a thing or two from drivers in Sri Lanka?

Sri lanka BeachAt first glance, you’d think Reading and Sri Lanka don’t have a lot in common.

One being an almost permanently gridlocked Berkshire town and the other being a tropical island paradise.

And you’re right, the two are about as similar as Real Madrid and Bracknell Town FC . However, that doesn’t mean the two can’t learn from each other.

I’ve just spent two weeks travelling around the magnificent island and observing the somewhat chaotic traffic systems.

It’s very much an eye-opener travelling by road around Sri Lanka, but I reckon there are some things we can learn from the Sri Lankans.

If you keep an open mind about these things, embracing some aspects of Sri Lankan driving COULD (maybe) help the ever-present problem of traffic in Reading.

Here’s some things perhaps Cllr Tony Page, Reading’s head traffic honcho, might consider:

1. Embrace the Tuk Tuk

Man’s engineering accomplishments are long and proud. The aeroplane, space travel and the steam engine are all rightly praised.

But not much praise is given to the extraordinarily durable three-wheelers called Tuk-Tuks used to scoot around the roads of Sri Lanka.

Piloted by highly-skilled and utterly fearless locals, they provide speedy access around the roads of the island.

It’s not exactly a relaxing experience, but they can get you pretty much anywhere and for very little money.

I’d like to see Britain taking a pro-active approach to Tuk-Tuk use, and feel Reading could be the catalyst for that.

A quick Google search suggests they are starting to come to this country, and very welcome they are too.

2. Lose roundabouts and traffic lights

In rural Sri Lanka, there are very few roundabouts and traffic lights, which means you can get to where you’re going quickly and without too much trouble.

More concerning however is that the roads are often full of cows, which the drivers take great care not to distress as they are considered sacred to Buddhists.

You also fairly regularly see water buffalo, crocodiles and giant water monitor lizards fairly regularly.

3. No road rage

One of the most noticeable things on the roads was how calm the drivers are, unlike in Reading .

You see some truly outrageous things, mainly the local bus drivers driving down the wrong side of the road.

The Tuk-Tuk and taxi drivers do not bat an eyelid. Maybe it’s because they’re largely Buddhist and remain in a state of calm, or maybe it’s because that’s what they’re used to.

Rest assured, if you saw some of the acts on the roads in Sri Lanka in Reading, an undignified roadside brawl would be the likely outcome.

4. Slow and steady wins the race

One of the reasons the system in Sri Lanka (kind of) works is that no-one drives at all fast.

The Tuk-Tuks are by no means built for speed and the rest of the traffic pootles along at a very gentle pace.

I expect the reason for this is the assumption at some point you’ll have to slam on your brakes to avoid a mad bus driver on the wrong side of the road, but it’s worth noting.

Road rules the Sri Lankans can keep to themselves

1. The bigger the better

In Sri Lanka, the rule is bigger the thing you’re driving, the more power you wield.

Hence why bus drivers literally do what they like – they work entirely on the (rather sensible) premise that drivers of smaller vehicles will simply move out of the way.

They do and it means the chaotic road system actually works reasonably well and is not as utterly terrifying as it first seems.

In Reading, you might just get the interesting sight of of the Reading Buses 26 and a big lorry having a stand-off along the Bath Road, causing huge tailbacks in both directions.

Endless horn-beeping

Having studied this it appears the rules in Sri Lanka are as follows:

  • Beep your horn to let the person in front or next to you know you’re there as swerving features heavily;
  • Beep your horn to let the person you’re recklessly overtaking know you’re recklessly overtaking them;
  • Beep your horn at most other times, particularly if the person in front of you waits for more than .5 of a second at a green traffic light.

If you get stuck in a city centre it’s unbelievably noisy.

The “double overtake”

This is one area where the laws of the road fall short.

You can be travelling in a Tuk-Tuk, when another Tuk-Tuk overtakes you.

Then, a bus driver/lorry overtakes that Tuk-Tuk, which leads to an alarming situation if you’re on the other side of the road.

I’ve seen some pretty extraordinary overtaking, particularly on the A4074 towards Oxford, but never a double.

Cycling on unlit roads at night with no lights

This happens a lot.

In Sri Lanka was usually elderly men on ancient rusty bicycles pedalling along in total darkness.

Of course, Reading’s Oxford Road seems to be the place to be on a bike at night with no lights but at least there are street lights.

It seemed unbelievably dangerous, but the nimble Sri Lankan drivers always seemed to spot the cyclists.


Can we learn a thing or two from Sri Lankan drivers?

Well, they’re very nimble and concentrate totally on the road, as you have to or you’ll crash.

The Sri Lankan system is chaotic, but it just about works because everyone does as they’re supposed to.

One maverick driver making their own rules could potentially cause a disaster, but the ones we saw were largely well-behaved within the “system”.

Who knows? Some innovative thinking from the Reading Borough Council transport team combining some of our better ideas and some of the Sri Lankan ones could produce the perfect road system.

It could also produce an almighty, bad-tempered, never ending traffic jam, which we have most of the time anyway.

And what would people in Reading moan about? (Get Reading)

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