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Malaysia does not have the worst drivers in the world. In my experience drivers are worse in both Italy and Vietnam, and I have yet to drive in South America. Bangladesh has the worst drivers I have ever seen from the passenger side of the vehicle, although I never got to experience driving there. On the other side of the coin, Germany has far and away the best drivers I have seen anywhere, and during the entire year we were there we only saw one accident. That despite the fact that there is no speed limit on the autobahns. There is a speed limit on the highways here, but it is routinely ignored. So are most safety protocols that you can think of. They tailgate, switch lanes with no warning, park on curves and simply abandon their vehicles if there is no parking spot readily available. I’ve seen children sitting and even standing in Daddy’s lap as the car is hurtling down the road. It is shocking and alarming and you’ve got to think that if you stay here long enough – eight years is plenty long enough – you are going to get hit.

Fortunately, I was schooled by one of the best drivers anywhere: my father, who had been taught when he was still a teenager by Raymond Mays, the reigning world driving champion before the war. My father was incredibly detailed in his training. The rear view mirrors had to be just so. If you could see your own car they weren’t right. You had to be able to see the car in the mirror until you could see it with your peripherals. He trained me to look under the wheels of parked cars for legs in case some child would dash out. You had one shot a parallel parking and you had to be less than six inches from the curb. I wasn’t allowed to listen to the radio, or I wouldn’t be able to hear the revs of the engine to know when to change gears. Oh yes, it had to be a manual transmission. By the time I took the driving test, I knew more than than the instructor. Naturally he failed me.

In adolescent anger at this totally arbitrary failure, I foolishly took my brother’s car and unfortunately lost control on a gravel road, totally smashing it in a farmer’s field north of the Toronto airport. I was very lucky to have survived the crash. But the accident embedded in my stubborn head (along with the shards of glass from the windshield) what my father had tried his best to impart: the cost of inattention. I have never forgotten that lesson, and drive with a fierce attention to detail. I rarely listen to music, never eat, barely talk. When I drive, I can tell you what is happening ten cars behind and twenty cars ahead: who’s going slow, who’s cutting in and out, who’s signaling, who’s heading for the same gap in the traffic as I am. All the time. That attitude and attention to the task has kept me from having another accident for nearly 50 years in driving on four continents. Nearly, but not quite.

There is a roundabout between the university, where I work in the morning and early afternoon, and the college, where I work in the late afternoon. Normally I avoid it as it is one of the most congested in town, and with the lack of lane discipline in Malaysia, one of the most dangerous. Nobody signals, nobody stay in lane going around corners, nobody has much patience with other drivers when they want to exit. Usually I take the long way around down the Federal Highway and in by the back streets behind the college.

This day I was running terribly late. The website was chewing up every spare minute and I just could not get out of a meeting to get over to the college on time. The work I had loaded myself with in three courses for my Master’s was keeping me up far too late at night and I was sliding ever deeper into sleep deficit. On top of that, I had become terribly sick and really shouldn’t have been at work at all. The illness made me fuzzy headed and inattentive. I made a bad decision to go through the roundabout to save time. I was driving in a fog of pain and stress and quite frankly, I didn’t even see the guy coming. I was in the left, outermost lane in the roundabout; he was to my right in the next lane and wanted to exit. I was in the way. He ploughed into me, just behind the passenger door. He didn’t beep the horn; he didn’t even try to brake. He just drove into me at speed.

I pulled over and got out on the passenger side just in time to see him remove the license plate from the front of his car and put it into his vehicle. He took no responsibility for what he had done and dared me to go to the police. He said I would be at fault. I was incredulous, but it turned out he was right. The sergeant took one look at me and immediately started to shake me down for 300 ringgit or he would charge me with the accident. I refused to pay him the bribe. He wrote me the ticket and sneered at my naiveté. I called my insurance agent who told me that he would not file a claim for me since the sergeant had determined that I was at fault. It would be too much trouble and the company would refuse my claim. He instructed me to call they guy who hit me and offer to pay for his damage so he didn’t claim against my insurer. I refused. Three days later, still woozy and now with colossal headaches, I checked myself into emerg at the local hospital for a workup on my neck and spinal column.

To be sure I have had plenty of lower points in my life, but this one was weighing on me. However, I was determined not to act in any way that would bring offense to God. I played it entirely by the book. I insisted on filing a claim, and it was not only honoured, but my insurance rate actually went down for the following year. The car was not only fixed properly, but I got a nice rental car for the interim at a fantastic rate that we were able to use while our friends Al and Shelley were here from Canada. God honoured my integrity. Even more importantly, I learned a little humility about what I can and cannot do at my age, and am determined to slow down, both on the road and in my personal life. No, I didn’t make 50 years accident free, but I might have gained something more important than a numerical record. I might have gained a little wisdom.

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