In America, there is a term called the “right of way,” which is used in explaining the driver-pedestrian relationship.
When pedestrians cross the street, whether they walk, run or ride a bicycle, they have the “right of way,” meaning any and every car near the pedestrians must yield to them. It is even against the law for a car to drive in the path of a pedestrian crossing the street.
In other words, in the rules of the road (in America), pedestrians are almighty and drivers of vehicles must act accordingly.
As a student at the University of Washington, I’ve experienced the power of the “right of way.” The area around the campus of the University is called the U-District. There, thousands of students and professors cross streets and intersections everyday, so drivers in the U-District (for the most part) are extremely cautious and patient with the pedestrians that surround them. When a pedestrian crosses a street, the driver of a nearby vehicle always slows down.
By contrast, I’ve noticed, albeit in a short period of time, that the concept of the “right of way” is utterly nonexistent here in Sierra Leone. Rather, pedestrians here seem to have what I might call the “wrong of way.”
Upon arriving in Freetown, I was almost shocked and, quite frankly, a bit frightened by the way my taxi driver was cruising down the city street.
Despite the fact that we were going down a dark, bumpy road, the driver zoomed past local pedestrians at a good 50 miles per hour or so.
If he were to drive that fast (or even a notch slower) down a similar road in the states (US), it would have resulted in a fine of at least $100-200 (which is about Le 300,000-600,000).
And as we zipped by and dodged the pedestrians walking on the side of the road, he continually honked at anyone and everyone who looked like he might potentially get in the way.
This kind of driving, which is clearly the norm here in Freetown, surprised and very much intrigued me.
I’m glad that I experienced that as soon as I arrived, though, because it prepared me (to a certain degree) for my interactions with the local drivers the next day.
The next morning when I walked the streets of Freetown with a colleague, I knew that I should be prepared for drivers honking at me, even if I wasn’t in the middle of the road – at least in my eyes.
As expected, every time I stepped out on the street, a honking driver was awaiting me, and that didn’t surprise or bother me one bit. However, even after acknowledging the fact that I should anticipate drivers honking at me, there was more than one occasion when my colleague either had to tell me to move or literally pull me out of the street by the arm.
There were just too many times when I started crossing the street, assuming that cars were going to slow down for me.
And each time my colleague saved me from getting pinned by a car, I had to remind myself, “That’s right; I’m definitely not in the U-District anymore.” By Yu Nakayama