Thursday, January 19, 2012

Random travel rant -- headlights!

I get to travel a lot for my work, almost entirely in developing countries and its really interesting to observe differences in living environments, cultures, and customs. At the same time, there are a few things that one expects to be somewhat consistent across settings such as norms for formal greetings, clothing (i.e. people wear them), etc.

Driving norms ain't one of them!

Here I want to pick on one aspect of driving: the (mis)use of vehicle headlights. Normally designed to facilitate vision at night, headlights take on numerous additional roles in developing countries. Here are just a few:

- Size and functionality of headlights is strongly and inversely correlated with the size of vehicle. What looks like a small scooter in the distance invariably is a large tractor trolley with a bulging load and one (weakly) functioning headlight.

- Scooters and motorcycles, in contrast, are fashionably adorned with flashing gadgets and Hollywood inspired signs that would put Kit to shame.

- Rickshaws typically don't need headlights (and many don't have them) as you can hear them well before you see them. Speed of sound is clearly faster than speed of light in this case.

- At home the unwritten rule of high beams is that we can use them to signal other drivers, for example to allow them to turn when its your right of way, etc. In contrast, the fairly explicit rule in developing countries is that high beams can and should be used as a tool of direct intimidation. If someone is trying to overtake in front of you, the best thing you can do is to blind them with your high beams! 

- Vehicle horns (some with catchy melodies) are a direct substitute for headlights. For some reason, they rarely malfunction.

Frequent travelers who read this blog, feel free to add your own bullet points below


  1. Is it okay to be happy for you and jealous at the same time? BTW, curious about that YOP drink. Is high fructose corn syrup the French sweetner of choice as well?

  2. Ha! On the YOP, I think its the same sweetener, they just call it glucose fructose syrup rather than HFCS, but it comes from the same source...

  3. Nice blog. Hope to get some more updates. Thanks a lot for sharing.