Thursday June 26 2014

Of unscripted signals

Unwritten road signals are part of  our everyday  road communication.

Unwritten road signals are part of our everyday road communication. This sign could mean trouble ahead or it could be a warning about traffic police ahead. PHOTOS BY ABUBAKER LUBOWA. 

We face challenges every day and we often come up with measures to counter them. On the road, drivers use different signals to communicate. Some are official while others are merely created and they sometimes confuse people.

Jude: When I was leaving the parking lot, I could see a boda boda rider in my side mirror. But maybe he thought I wasn’t seeing him and that I was going to knock him and his passenger -so he whistled! At the back of my mind I was asking myself that in the event that I hadn’t seen him, would that whistle signal work? On the road we have so many signals, but how practical are they?

Mustafa: I think the question is what did you expect from the boda man, what did you want him to do?

Jude: He should have hooted.

Paul: I think his mechanism of alerting you was effective. Wasn’t it?

Jude: I had already seen him. That is why I am asking in case I hadn’t seen him, would this whistling have worked?

Mustafa: Perhaps he whistled because you had seen him!

Paul: Jude, your car and Mustafa’s have proximity sensors to alert you about oncoming bodas (jokes). Anyway on a serious note, you raise a point here. What are the effective rules of communicating on the road?

Mustafa: My father taught me how to drive. He warned me against honking at people. You can wait for them to pass or listen to the sound of the engine and only honk if you really have to. Eeh, is honking American English? Okay, hooting. There are people who just hoot all the time. Anything as small as a cat crossing the road, they just hoot.

Jude: When they are impatient and thinking of you as holding up traffic, they will hoot. It is even noisy.

Mustafa: Then many times, when taxi drivers are behind you they may not hoot but will flash their lights at you. I don’t know if you have noticed this. Personally, I think the way someone communicates while on the road is purely circumstantial. If you want to reach a certain junction before someone else you want them to slow down. So you flash your lights for them to slow down. Another incident may be, I am flashing you to pass so that I can pass next. The boda man who whistled at you, may be the circumstance forced him to.

Jude: But how many road users know how to interprete these signs? Some in wanting to give you space to join the road, they flash their lights twice. Others do it but kind of like warning you.

Paul: What does the traffic manual say about giving the hand or any kind of signals? There is also acquired culture or road behaviour. If you drive on the highway in Uganda, you are forced to learn. When someone from the oncoming traffic flashes their indicator on the highway it is a sign for you not to knock them. In other words suggesting, this is how far you should go. I used to wonder what it meant and I was told in Uganda it means, I am approaching you, so keep your distance.

Mustafa: But still on the highway, it could mean do not overtake at this particular point.

Jude: Who comes up with all these rules?

Paul: Here is another one out of the books. If you are on the highway and you drive up behind the traffic in front of you and someone is driving slowly and they want you to overtake them, they switch on their left hand side indicator.

Mustafa: To tell you, it is okay to overtake me.

Paul: We have the acquired culture and the written laws, for instance the hand signals. If you have faulty indicators and you want to turn to the right, there are hand signals that you can use for the oncoming traffic and for the traffic following you to understand.

Jude: Like you said about acquired culture, the hand signals by the taxi drivers are purely their own creation. From warning you about traffic officers ahead to telling their colleagues that there are many passengers ahead, so rush there!

Mustafa: Yeah, it comes from the saying if you hang with the Romans you learn what the Romans do. If you drive a lot with taxi guys, you will learn their signals. If you are in an area where there are many boda guys, whistles won’t come as a surprise to you.

Paul: On a highway, there are signals the taxi drivers use to make you slow down because there are traffic officers ahead. I think you have seen that sign of as if he is dropping some eggs.

Jude: That sign actually sometimes means there are many passengers ahead. The oncoming driver tells the other go in his direction to rush and pick them (laughter from all).

Paul: When you want to join the main road and someone flashes lights, in Uganda it could mean, I am letting you go.

Mustafa: (Interjects) or it could mean, don’t even think about it! (laughter).

Paul: You just have to learn the rules.

Jude: Gentlemen, what could be your advice to prospective car owners, should they just go with the flow or learn them because we interpret them differently?

Mustafa: I think there are some that have come to be concretised or baptised as the norm in society. For instance, the indicator on the highway. Anyone who has used the highway knows this signal about you can overtake or do not overtake. But it really comes down to acquired culture and learning with time, you get to know what they mean. Now like joining a junction and someone flashes their lights either to let you in or warn you not to even come close, such signals are learnt with practice, you may not learn by the book.

Paul: In the UK, when you want to join a junction and the oncoming traffic wants you to pass, they will flash. In Uganda, most drivers are not courteous. He has the urge to go and not to let you in anyway. So when he flashes, you have to think twice, you have to imagine he is warning you. So you don’t rush in.

Mustafa: The official tag for flashing is called pass just like you mentioned about letting you pass but in Uganda it is the other way round or depending on circumstance.