Dubai: The recurring sense of irritation, frustration and exasperation felt on UAE roads is a reflection of the cultural conflict between drivers coming from different backgrounds, according to a behaviourial consultant and former ambulance driver.
Marco Blankenburgh, founder of the UAE-based KnowledgeworkX consultancy, said: “The UAE has a diverse mix of drivers who come from different countries, nationalities and cultural backgrounds. They are coloured by their own worldviews and practices which may not necessarily be the same as that of the others. So different people react differently to the same situation. Egos too come into play and all of this takes a heavy toll on the roads.”
Consider this. You are driving on the highway, traffic is thick and there are cars trying to come in from an on-ramp. According to Blankenburgh, a driver trained in North America, Europe, Australia or Singapore, will diligently follow the rules and assume others too do the same. “A person coming from these backgrounds, who is quick to establish the rules with the highway driver, will put on his indicator and wait to get in one car at a time. Drivers from these countries are given to deductive reasoning, cause and effect, good questions and process. They see issues as black and white. Communication is direct and can be blunt.”
But if the driver on the highway is not from these countries and has a Middle Eastern, Asian or South American background, the sense of right and wrong shifts to a perception of honour and shame. “A driver from such a background will immediately fill the gap and not allow the car from the on-ramp in. He will give in only if the other driver makes a request to him with a gesture of the hand or eyes. Communication for them is very relationship-driven, with every interaction having an effect on the honour/shame status of the people involved.”
Similarly, Blackenburgh said if the driver is from Africa and some other parts of Asia or South America, a sense of power and fear comes into play. “If the highway driver is from these backgrounds, he will speed up and fill the gap. He will not make way if the other driver approaches him. On the outside, his action may appear the same as someone from an honour-shame background. But the motivation for him is different and stems from a sense of power. It’s all about fitting into the pecking order of a situation and behaving accordingly.”
He said a driver figures out these nuances over time. Often, during a traffic jam, he noted that a power-fear background driver who wants to get on to the highway will use the on-ramp all the way to the end and try to barge in at the last minute. “This is why we see a pile up of 10-15 cars which have to slow down.”
He said young drivers from rich backgrounds, especially from some Arab countries, tend to assert their authority on the roads. They get bigger and faster cars at an early age without a strong foundation in driving. Their sense of power or honour , which instills fear or shame in another driver in a conflicting situation, plays out differently compared to the neutral worldview of someone from a western background for whom the law is the final word.