By Ooi Kee Beng
Editorial for Penang Economic Monthly [www.penangmonthly.com]
What would happen if every car is obliged by law to have a CCTV camera mounted in front of the driver, which immediately beams his face prominently onto an LED screen fixed on the roof of the vehicle for the world to see?
Simple answer, we would have better-mannered drivers on the road.
Such a contraption would force drivers to behave towards each other the way pedestrians have to. They will have to interact with fellow users of public thoroughfares on a face-to-face basis, literally, just like pedestrians do. Of course, pedestrians are not always polite and civil to each other, but they certainly exercise more public consciousness than drivers do in general.
To use the state government’s favourite words, drivers will have to contend with demands of Competence, Accountability and Transparency. When one can be recognized and cannot hide behind metal roofs and tinted screens, then chances are, one will behave. One will act competently.
Needless to say, not all bad driving is punishable under the law; and even in cases when it is punishable, we still have to assume that law enforcers are not only present when the offence is committed, but that they are also law-abiding officers.
Shame, I feel, is a sadly forgotten virtue. And the way a car is constructed, together with the chance to just speed away from the consequences of one’s dangerous or irresponsible driving without being recognized, encourages drivers to act badly.
I am totally convinced that if we cannot hide our face, we will behave better. There are exceptions of course. Some behave badly only under anonymity, while some on the other hand behave badly only if recognition and notoriety are promised. To be sure, at the same time, a lot of good deeds are done only if name and fame are guaranteed.
But in general, we behave ourselves especially when we are fully visible to passers-by and the world.
When the automobile first appeared, it was relatively slow and its occupants sat fully visible to the world. Why hide when one can be recognized positively?
Today, drivers tend to be entombed in their vehicle and easily feel distanced from the tarmac world outside, a world populated with irritating aliens hidden in metal boxes zooming around taking up space and challenging one’s right to be mobile and unhindered.
I am reminded of an incident I witnessed on a London street about 30 years ago. I was getting off a double-decker bus together with a crowd of people just when a motorcyclist with fully tinted visor cut in on the inside. He almost hit an old man with a cane, who was understandably flustered.
Now this is the part that impressed me. The leather-geared motorcyclist, instead of zooming away unrecognized, and perhaps with a middle finger in the air, stopped his bike, pushed it to the side, freed his head from his helmet to reveal himself, and then apologized profusely to the old gentleman, face to face.
That’s what I call being well-behaved.