As I recently bought a car, I have been studying the rules of the road and have set out below a few notes which may help aspiring drivers in the Gambia. The points marked with an asterisk * apply principally to taxi/van drivers but can be used by private vehicles too.
BEFORE YOU BEGIN
· It is essential to pass the following skills test before attempting to drive:-
- Open the door (left hand side front normally, but this can be changed when circumstances require) and settle yourself in to the driver’s seat
- Make sure the radio is in the correct position for starting (full volume) and that the windscreen stickers or knitted decorations obscure at least 20% of your view. (If the vehicle has been licensed, a judiciously placed licence disc will help obscure a vacant place on the windscreen even if it is out of date)
- At night check that at least one of the lights will illuminate – for vans it helps if this is the interior lamp so that the “apprenti” can count the fares.
When you have practised these manoeuvres sufficiently (i.e. at least once) you will be considered competent and may start the engine and proceed.
· Make sure you have at least four wheels with tyres, (two is sufficient for a motorcycle) and that these are all attached to your chosen vehicle.
· Wash the vehicle regularly (including the tyres and engine bay if necessary) as this will improve performance and fuel consumption*
- Invest in some colourful pictures of a celebrated Islamic scholar to stick in the windscreen, or paint his name across the front/rear of the vehicle in large letterS. (If you prefer you can paint a catchy slogan like “Get Rich or Die Trying”, “Justice”, “City Boy”, or similar on the bonnet or boot instead)*
- Flashing LED lights in various colours, and vinyl flames pasted down the sides of the car will improve your driving considerably
HAZARDS ON THE ROAD
· Hazards can be defined as any person or object you may encounter within 100 yards of the road and are best just ignored. If however you really feel the need to take action the following hints may come in useful:-
- When approaching a hazard (for example a donkey cart, a broken down lorry, a van parked in the carriageway, pedestrians, or a driver coming in the opposite direction) maintain your speed and course until just before the point of impact, then either brake hard while blowing your horn, or if you are able to do so accelerate and swing sharply out past the hazard (right and left side are both equally acceptable) while blowing your horn and waving.
- If you spot a friend or acquaintance on the roadside or in another vehicle maintain your forward speed but ignore the traffic in front so that you can attract their attention and hold a conversation in passing.
- When you are behind a queue of vehicles it will miraculously clear the stoppage and help traffic move forward more speedily if you lean hard on the horn.
- On dual carriageways bicycles and motorcycles are permitted to travel against the normal flow of traffic (as are private cars, vans, donkey carts, and pedestrians).
- Traffic lights if encountered can be safely ignored, unless a police officer is on duty, in which case you are advised to try to decipher which of his flapping hands applies to you and wave back graciously.
- At junctions and roundabouts the normal approach is to maintain forward motion (with horn blowing and waving where appropriate) so that someone else has to give way and let you in. Sticking your hand out of the window sometimes helps provided you wave it about in an indeterminate manner.
- It is considered bad manners for drivers ever to give way to other traffic or pedestrians although this rule may be ignored when waving someone across a busy road in front of you, provided that before doing so you ensure other traffic is approaching fast from behind (or the opposite direction) – this keeps the pedestrians alert.
- If you are driving a van, please remember that tying a large assortment of heavy and unwieldy items onto the roof will dramatically improve your vehicle’s stability and handling characteristics. If you only have a car, why not try a settee and 2 armchairs, or simply leave the boot lid flapping open with something long protruding to the side. (Bundles of steel reinforcing bars are another popular roof mounted accessory but should not protrude over the bonnet by more than a foot or two. Any excess can safely be left dragging on the road behind you. If you are unsure of the area, the marks on the road will help guide you back the way you came.)
- Don’t forget that everyone else on the road is a complete idiot, without the benefit of your superior knowledge and skills, and draw this to the attention of your passengers/other road users as often and as loudly as possible.
- When approaching a toubab walking towards you, blow your horn loud and long as this will invariably persuade them to hail your vehicle for a long ride in the opposite direction to which they were heading *(taxi drivers only)
- When driving any kind of emergency vehicle ensure you use the flashing lights and sirens at all times. Other road traffic will think it is the Presidential motorcade and move to the side thus enabling you to arrive at your destination at least 30 seconds before you would otherwise have done so.
- If you intend stopping to pick up or deposit passengers, it will help if first you overtake the vehicle in front so that you can cut smartly in front of them without indicating. If this is not possible, consider stopping as sharply as you can and as close as you can to any other parked vehicles.*
Judicious use of the horn is advisable to notify other road users of your intentions, particularly in the following circumstances, although this list is not exhaustive:-
- When turning left or pulling out
- When turning right or pulling in
- When stopping
- When at a roundabout or junction
- When stuck behind other stationary traffic (very important here)
- When you see a friend or relative
- When you see a toubab
- When someone tries to cross the road
- When some other idiot pulls out in front of you, stops in front of you, or otherwise impedes your progress
N. B. On a dual carriageway it is advisable to change lanes frequently and without warning so that you can see the road in front and stop drivers behind from doing so or getting in front of you. If you are driving at speed in the outside (left) lane, approaching a left turn with queuing traffic, undertaking is best left until you are about to collide with the stationary vehicle in front of you.
If you pay careful attention to the above you will soon feel perfectly at home with the rest of the drivers on the road in Gambia!