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[OPINION] Car privileges & road etiquette

“When a taxi stops, consider the person getting into the taxi before you hoot so that you can move 10 METERS in the traffic! Check your car privileges...”. This was the recent Facebook status of a friend. It reminded me that although taxis are an irritant on the roads, they are providing a service to people who clean our homes, look after our aging relatives and young children, they serve us our breakfast and coffee at cafes in the mornings and generally have no other options than the taxi.

Clearly, the taxis in this discussion are not Ubers; they are E20 Toyotas taking all of the people mentioned above to their destinations. 14 passengers with 14 different destinations and mostly similar starting hours.

In the leafy, hilly area in which I am privileged to live, I see many young and old women and men speedily making their way to their day and night jobs, at various times of the day.

Years ago I met a lady sitting in the cloakroom at a mall weeping. She was late for work three mornings in a row because of various taxi issues out of her control; she called her employer from a borrowed cellphone on the third day to apologise and say she would be late again. When she arrived at their home, her job of 5 years, she was fired for being late three days in a row and for calling so early in the morning and waking the baby.

It feels unbelievable. It happens. These are blind spots to many people unaware of their privileges in contrast to those without any privilege, besides maybe having a low-level job to keep their heads above water, maybe.

When I read the term “car privilege” it dawned on me how many privileges those of us with cars enjoy. We can schedule our day, be on time, leave on time and enjoy the safety of our own driving and onboard entertainment. Mine includes two excited children, a CD player which can be operated at the touch of a button, the options of radio stations, an air conditioner or heater depending on what I need and then, of course, the comfort and protection of a safety belt. One of the biggest privileges most drivers enjoy is insurance. In the event of something happening to you or your car and its occupants, we have insurance and medical aid. The commuters in a taxi have none of these benefits, every day their lives and livelihoods are in the hands of taxi drivers.

One day in your car privilege, allow a taxi in front of you as he pushes his way in. Patiently wait behind him as he allows a gogo to get out near her home or workplace. Slow down as he overtakes you on the yellow line. Save yourself the stress of raging in your car, in front of your kids or losing your composure before an important meeting or appointment.

It’s a whole new world. I have had a number of taxi drivers acknowledge me for seeing them, letting them in, not harassing them (back). It leaves me feeling more in charge of myself and the situation than when I lose my already tired nut. I explain to my children what I am doing and why and what the taxi driver is doing and why. They know the difference between right and wrong and that as their mother and the driver of our car, I have a choice on how I respond to any situation in the traffic. Mostly there is some eye rolling and sighing, but then we move on.

While we debate the relevance, arrogance and contempt of some taxi drivers, let’s look closer to home. I was recently called stupid by a mom in the stop-and-go zone at my child’s school. It was 7:30 in the morning, two cars ahead of me were bandied up in two illegal parking gaps and I couldn’t move forward. I suggested my son jump out and grab his bag instead of waiting for me to park. We were in that process when I heard someone press on their hooter. Not in my imagination did I guess that was for me. As this lady with her two teenage daughters in tow rolled passed me, she mouthed: “You are stupid!” I was surprised and a little amused. Off went my son went to school. I chose to slowly drive past her. I caught their eyes (mum and daughters) smiled, apologised and bowed my head. The anger on her face was still real and fresh, she stuck her finger to her head and signalled that I was mad in the head. I conceded, put both hands in the air with a second apology.

I drove off wondering if she was aware of her car privilege, I wondered how she treated taxi drivers or any other people in her life.

Sometimes, the more privilege we have, the easier it is to always be up for a fight. I will take stupid and mad over rude and disgraceful any day. Check your car privileges.

Lisa Joshua Sonn is a social activist. Follow her on Twitter: @annalisasonn

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