Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Darwinian Explanation of Bad Driving in Lima

As I was talking to the taxi driver recently on my trip across the border from Ecuador to Peru, it occurred to me that there´s a very simple explanation for the fact that drivers in Lima are among the worst in the world. If you haven´t been to Lima, it´s pretty easy to understand what it´s like. Just imagine that everyone who drives a car here is participating in a game where the object is to get to your destination in the minimum possible time, and there only three rules: (1) Your vehicle cannot make contact with another vehicle except for incidental bumping of mirrors that may occur when you try to squeeze between two lanes of traffic, (2) If there is a policewoman (virtually all of the traffic police are women) physically present at an intersection, you have to stop when the stoplight turns red, and (3) You can´t drive on sidewalks when pedestrians are present.

My revelation occurred when the taxi driver, who seemed like a very normal driver, told me that he had lived in Lima for nine years before moving to the northern extreme of the country. He said that he hated driving a taxi in Lima because there was so much competition. So in order to make a decent living in Lima, a taxi driver has to really hustle. (There are no meters in taxis, so income is strictly related to distance traveled, not time of travel.) He has virtually no control over the price of his service, since he´ll have no customers if he charges more than others. And he has a limited amount of time to earn his daily wage. Darwin would probably look at this situation and say, ¨Of course they drive that way. It´s the only way they can survive.¨

No comments: