There are always challenges in driving abroad, whichever country you live in. In Brunei we are fortunate in many ways: it is easy to get a Brunei driving license if you already hold a British one; they drive on the left of the road, the same as the UK; there is a lot less traffic than in the UK due to the smaller population; fuel is dirt cheap; no honking horns and I’ve never witnessed a single incident of road rage.
Yet every time I get in to my car to cover any distance, I feel as though I am taking a risk. This risk exists wherever you are in the world, but there are certain things about Brunei’s roads and drivers that magnify this. It’s usual to see the debris left over from a crash when you go out, or the actual vehicles involved, and there will often be a pile of glass by a roundabout or a sign lying on the ground which someone has driven in to. During Ramadan the number of accidents is even more pronounced as a lack of food or drink makes people’s concentrations slip and the roads are horrendously busy around the breaking of the fast as people try to reach home, a restaurant or the mosque.
But accidents happen all year round. The quality of driving has a lot to be desired sometimes, on many occasions I’ve seen people who are just unaware of the rules of the road. Every time I come off a roundabout I check that there is no one in the left hand lane going right, as several times I have had a near miss. You often see someone skipping a red light, and it’s not uncommon for people to overtake in the most dangerous places – on a corner or in the face of heavy traffic. One of the most bizarre sights I’ve seen were parents parking on a roundabout when they went to collect their children from school. Although I would have loved a photo, it would have been a bit hypocritical of me to do the same in order to get a snap.
The elements also have their part to play; when it rains it really rains here and the roads can become flooded in a very short time if they are not properly drained, not to mention the visibility which becomes dire. I try to avoid driving when it’s raining, but it’s not always possible.
The worst thing for me is the number of children you see roaming around the car without a seat belt or being held on the parent’s knees in the front of the car (sometimes by the driver!) I find this so sad as if the car were to crash the children would most likely die. Yet there is very little law enforcement upon the roads so this behaviour is unlikely to change. There are also very few instances of speed-trapping and no tests for drink driving (which is common amongst the expats), so very little deterrent exists.
Despite the risks, I still get in my car most days because the alternatives are walking in the heat or catching the non-air-conditioned local buses. Brunei is not a country that lends itself to pedestrianisation. But no matter where I am driving, even if it’s the shortest distance, I always make sure I maintain my concentration and expect the unexpected.