(Originally published in Journey To Samal blog)

This week I got a dose of reality about driving in the Philippines.

Just to be clear, I’m not one of those foreigners who complains about the local driving customs. I actually like driving here, better than in the obsessive-compulsive rules-intensive systems prevailing in many ‘advanced’ countries.

Here traffic flow depends much less on rules and much more on individual drivers exercising common sense. Mostly, it works fine. In two years of driving here I’ve seen a total of perhaps three accidents, all minor fender-benders.

It can seem a bit chaotic – turning left from the right lane, turning right from the left lane, . . . passing in the oncoming traffic lane or on the shoulder, backing out of driveways into a solid line of moving vehicles, veering across lanes to get around jeepneys stopping for passengers — but hardly ever any accidents.

Surprisingly, unlike in the more rules-obsessed systems, driver behavior here is very predictable. The driving is aggressive, but it isn’t erratic. You know exactly what the other guy is going to do: if there’s an opening, he’s going to take it.

On the whole, driving here is very liberating. No worrying about silly, arbitrary stuff like lanes or crosswalks, just aim the car in the direction you want to go and try not to run into anything important.

Simple.

Or so I thought.

So this week my wife went down to the LTO (Land Transportation Office, which issues car registrations and driver licenses) to renew the registration on our car.

Turned out, she couldn’t — she had a ticket.

A camera ticket.

Not just any camera ticket. A camera parking ticket.

Here, they don’t mail you the ticket like they did back in the U.S. Here, they just wait for you to try to renew your car registration, and surprise you with it.

It seems that some months back, my wife had parked by the side of the road while shopping at the Bankerohan market. For those not familiar, this is the large downtown wet market, which occupies many acres of territory with stall after stall of everything from fruit to fish. It is always crowded, and it is always nearly impossible to find a parking place anywhere near there, so people park along the approach roads wherever they can find space.

And it turns out there is a rule that no one I’ve talked to had ever heard of: it’s illegal to park on the right-hand side of a one way street here. (Apparently this is to make room for the jeepneys to stop. Why that logic doesn’t apply to two-way streets, I have no idea.)

Of course, along the roads near the market, people are always parked bumper to bumper along both sides of the street, so this must be a big money maker for the LTO. Where the camera fits in, I haven’t quite figured out — do they have cameras covering the whole road? Do they move them around? Did my wife just get lucky and happen to park on the one spot where there’s a camera? Or maybe they have someone walk around with a camera? It is a mystery.

To get the car registered, my wife had to pay the fine — P1,200 for “reckless driving” — and sit through a seminar on how to drive properly.

But — having done all that, she still couldn’t register the car because that requires a receipt showing that she took care of the ticket. Which could not be issued because PLDT was having a network outage, so the LTO computers couldn’t access the system, which is national.

For three days.

Requiring multiple trips to the LTO, and many hours spent (fortunately not by me) waiting around for the computer network to spring back to life.

Now, I realize that as a guest in this country it really isn’t my place to tell my hosts how they should run their traffic system. But perhaps I might be forgiven for noting that I moved here in part to get away from the nanny-watching-your-every-move trend afoot where I came from — of which traffic cameras are a prime example — and, trust me, guys, if you go down that road you aren’t going to like where it takes you.

No doubt there are some aspects of American culture that are worth importing — Mexican food comes to mind — but exchanging Filipino ingenuity, self-reliance, and common sense for the current American fad of busybodies scrutinizing everyone’s every move under a regulatory microscope — that’s a terrible trade, in my opinion.

But anyway, there is a bright side to this story.

Now, when my wife critiques my driving (that would be pretty much any time I’m behind the wheel), I have a comeback:

At least I have never been convicted of reckless driving while parked.

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