Friday, August 04, 2006

Are Mongolians Bad Drivers?

My first inclination is to say that they are the worst drivers I have ever seen. My second inclination is to qualify that statement. First off, you need to differentiate between Mongolians who live in UB (the only city in Mongolia over 100,000 people,) and everywhere else in the country.

In the city, there are no street lights. Okay, there are a few, at the massive six-lane four-direction intersections, but otherwise, there aren't any. Which means that cars have no reason to stop, and they don't want to stop. But pedestrians need to cross the road, which means that as a pedestrian, every time you cross the street, you have to take your life into your own hands and just walk out there and trust that the cars will stop or at least swerve a little. This always works better when there is a group of you.

Mongolia has one road that goes East-West across the country and it is not paved. Well, all but two small, random parts of it are not paved. One part, apparently, and this could very well be apochryphal, was paved by the Chinese, and, to make a larger profit, the Chinese apparently only made one and a half lanes instead of two, so it's not wide enough for two cars to fit. It also hasn't been repaired for a long time so it's pretty cracked. The other paved part, according to the same potentially apochryphal tale, was made by the Japanese, and that area is nice and smooth. It's almost like a mirage in that the dirt road suddenly becomes smooth asphalt and then, about 30 miles later, it abruptly becomes dirt again.

After a while, parts of the East-West road get so cut up and bumpy, in a bbbbbbummmbbbbummmm humming way, that drivers start making their own roads in the dirt next to the main road (Land Cruisers are the cars of choice here for obvious reasons -- you'd be nuts to drive anything that doesn't have 4-wheel drive outside of UB). The second roads tend to run parallel to the main road about 20 feet away. Sometimes the two roads intersect, and sometimes it's hard to tell if you are on the main road or the side road. The side road, however, tends to go BUMP! BUMP! as though you are on an trampoline and only spend half the time on the ground.

There's actually a big drama here about whether to fix the roads, because if the roads were fixed, people would drive on them more, and so it means that a lot of the really natural, beautiful places in Mongolia would be easily accessible by car and, if people went there, it would cause further disintegration of the nomadic lifestyle.

Another issue with Mongolian cars is that because they are all cheaply refurbished, they break down a lot. Probably every mile you will see a broken-down car. While this means that all Mongolians have to be really good car mechanics -- when you're in the middle of nowhere Mongolia, you need to be able to fix your own car -- it also means that quick fixes like sawdust to improve the gears are used regularly not as quick-fixes, but as completely valid methods for fixing one's car.

To further compound the Mongolian driving problem, gas is really expensive in Mongolian. It's essentially equivalent to what it is in the United States, which, while not expensive for the rest of the world, considering that the average Mongolian makes around $1200 a year, is really expensive for a Mongolian, so they are always trying to find an angle to make their gas last longer.

One more thing about Mongolian cars -- Mongolians hate seatbelts. I think they think seatbelts are for wusses. Seriously. Mongolians rip all the seatbelts out of their cars as soon as they buy them.

Part of me thinks maybe Mongolians are such crazy drivers because they are used to riding horses and so they are used to "off-roading" and they're also not used to having to worry about other passengers or drivers. Part of me also thinks that Mongolians are just really bad drivers.


At 5:45 AM, Blogger SoS said...

Maybe you can tell that to the driver that's going to take you into the countryside one day. I don't think he'll appreciate it too much. In my experience, Mongolians are probably some of the safest drivers in the world, in UB and outside it. And yes, I've traveled all over Mongolia on more dirt roads than I care to remember, with Mongolian drivers at the wheel.

And dang, I was glad they knew how to fix their cars or negotiate a few extra liters of petrol in the middle of the Gobi. If anyhting, most Mongolians take really good care of their cars as it it the most expensive consumer item they buy.

At 11:02 AM, Blogger oyun said...

i think you are just a veru ignorant person, and can't see things from different point of view, don't like this kind

At 7:59 AM, Blogger chika said...

Maybe it is just your opinion but in reality it is different.I believe you have no experience in that condition.maybe it can scare some foriegn drivers to drive in some part of Mongolia, such as UB crowded small roads and and really scare mountain roads ;-), but I don't think that Mongolians are bad drivers except ones without driving license

At 2:20 AM, Blogger jargalan said...

What is your definition of bad drivers huh?are you a bad driver if you don't follow the rules? it just means you are an irresponsible driver not a "bad driver" as you so astutely stated. Mongolians do Not rip off their car's seatbelts for the very simple reason that it is dumb.if you have been around mongolians you should know that they are very careful with their possessions and they would Not just "rip" off perfectly fine things for no reason at all. Also, the comment that there are literally broken down cars everywhere is very confusing to me.I have lived my entire life in UB and frankly I have never seen so many broken down cars on the road. I guess things really changed back home huh? As for the outrageous, sky-high price of gas I must say that you are correct that it is quite high compared to the average salary level but really comparing it to US gas price is simply ridiculous and uninformed. I am afraid that you have been duped my bumbling foreign friend by whoever it is that you had buy the gas because there is no way that gas is SOO high in Mongolia. Your comment about how there are no road lights in Mongolia and how the pedestrians how to run across the road cracks me up man,seriously. I don't know what you are on man but to miss a whole citi's worth of road lights? man, you must be using some seriously strong stuff man. :) The skill of mongolian drivers is from My experience both home in Mongolia and abroad in US and Singapore quite high. At least they know how to park without fumbling around for 10 minutes. Also not All mongolian cars are "cheap and refurbished". Seriously, dude where have you been wandering around in Mongolia? I as a Mongolian have not been drowning in a sea of cheap and refurbished cars that break down at every turn.

At 1:08 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

i agree with the pedestrian thing! you are taking your life in your hands and i found it was more likely to have someone swerve to not hit u than to hit their brakes haha. i think they are very bad drivers compared to the US but also amazing drivers in that i only saw 2 small accidents in the month i was there :o

At 7:30 PM, Blogger samraat said...

At 3:38 AM, Blogger Unknown said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

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