Asian Roads Feel Chaotic – But Somehow They Work

Brian Barkley Winnipeg

I’ve seen a lot of traffic in my day. I’ve driven three quarters of a million kilometres  in Winnipeg rush hour traffic; I’ve driven coast to coast all over Canada; I’ve driven countless kilometres (or should I say miles) in rural and urban United States and I’ve been in in traffic all over the world while in tour buses or taxis. But I’ve never seen traffic such as I recently witnessed while travelling in Asia.

Scooters Everywhere

We saw vast urban streets in densely populated cities filled with scooters! Scooters were often in the hundreds or thousands and they jockeyed for position amidst work trucks, buses and taxis. Private vehicles were extremely rare in Vietnam and Thailand.

Winnipeg folk usually perceive a scooter as a one or two person vehicle. Many had three or four or even five people aboard one scooter! Sometimes that involved whole families on one scooter and many of those folks were holding a variety of packages. We even saw a scooter with one person – but he had a full grown butchered pig tethered alongside him!

Amidst this chaos, the scooter traffic moved quite efficiently. Big delays were rare. The drivers honked incessantly, but as near as I could tell the honking wasn’t done in anger; it alerted each other and the larger vehicles using the same lanes. The big vehicles honked constantly as well to tell the scooters to move over on the narrow lanes.

Head on scenarios and quick harrowing passing were everywhere. It was sometimes hard to watch but everyone seemed to comply and just got out of the way when necessary. In Winnipeg a barrage of horns usually indicates angry drivers. In the scooter streets of Asia everyone seemed to speak the same vehicular language and somehow it worked.

Hong Kong and Singapore

In cities such as Hong Kong and Singapore, however, things were different. Both of these cities are massive, with populations over 5 million and much more prosperity than we saw in Vietnam and Thailand.

I expected traffic congestion and delays as we took a variety of trips through both cities on tour buses. Traffic was heavy with a mix of many private vehicles, taxis, limousines, work trucks and plenty of buses and a few scooters and bicycles. But, delays were minimal.

Traffic circles were everywhere and traffic signals were at many other major intersections, but somehow traffic moved efficiently. Our drive times at peak traffic hours were quick. I can’t recall any significant delays as our drivers wove through downtown streets. I wish I knew how they did it but many North American cities of comparable size don’t move as well.

I don’t have information on traffic safety data in the Asian cities I visited, but while the traffic often appeared harrowing and chaotic for all kinds of reasons I didn’t see one mishap amidst the thousands of drivers and vehicle. Traffic data and research might tell a different story – or maybe they know something we don’t.

— Brian Barkley, MyToba News

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