Today as I drove along the highway on the way to school to pick up my kids, two men lost control of the motorbike they were riding together at high speed, tumbled off and skidded along the road towards me at what must have been nearly 40km/hr until finally veering off the road and coming to an awful bone-crushing halt. It was one of those moments where you feel simultaneously sick to the stomach, paralysed by shock, and everything seems to go in slow motion. By some miracle as I looked back in horror I saw that, despite wearing no protective clothing and no helmets, they both managed to stand up. However I could not stop on the dual carriage highway, and had to keep driving on hoping for the best for them.
My first reaction after coming out of the shock was to abuse the stupid Pakistani lawmakers who in their wisdom (or lack thereof), made the loose and basically unenforced law that a motorcyclist must carry a helmet on his bike, but does not have to wear it. It is yet another one of those genius Pakistani ideas that defies all logic.
But then after thinking about it a bit more deeply I realised that it is just part of a whole different mindset here. In Australia the law is there to protect people so that they don’t really have to look out for themselves. Wear your seatbelt, wear your helmet, drive under the speed limit, cross the road at the lights, drive in your lane. In fact there are laws for everything – don’t throw rubbish, don’t smack your children, don’t make too much noise, don’t smoke in public places, don’t swear and the list goes on and on and on. The great thing about so many laws is that if something goes wrong, you can always blame someone else for ruining your life instead of your own stupidity. You can take the other person to court, have your innocence proven beyond a doubt, and walk away with the satisfaction that you were right and they were wrong. It is ironic to me that in a society that talks so much of individual rights and freedom, there is such a lot of blame and lack of responsibility.
Pakistan has the whole thing upside down. This is an every-man-for-himself kind of society where there are hardly any laws, little law enforcement for the few laws that there are, and everyone has to take responsibility for their own selves. The interesting thing in a lawless society is that the buck stops with yourself (and with God), not with the man who made the faulty part of the motorbike that caused it to tip, not with the maker of the road who left a gaping hole, not with the other guy sitting on the back of your motorbike that went to answer his mobile phone and unbalanced the bike.
Here there are no seatbelt laws. There are no laws about how many people can ride on the back of a motorbike (I am constantly amazed at the risk families take when they load up five family members on the back of one bike in full view of traffic policemen). There are no laws about driving in your lane (and nobody does). The result is that everyone learns to drive completely defensively, as if everyone is out to hit you, and believe it or not, it actually makes you a better driver. You simply must take care of yourself, because nobody else will do it for you. Likewise even off the road, here people learn to look out for themselves, because there is no Centrelink back-up, no supportive legal system and no free medical benefits.
In a lot of ways it is quite nice not to have anyone else to blame. It is a clean way to live where one simply must take responsibility for one’s own self. For a dyed-in-the-wool Aussie who relies on having someone to blame in order to exonerate myself, that is sometimes a bit of a challenge. I certainly don’t advocate riding motorbikes without a helmet, but it is yet another reason why living in this country is such a fascinating experience.