Iraqis Give a Master Class in Defensive Driving

The Washington Post today covers the continued assasinations of Iraqi government officials. Driving is a particularly dangerous time for officials: An IED can be planted on their route and detonated by cell phone when they pass, a motorcyclist can race by and plant a sticky bomb on a vehicle in the convoy, or gunmen can simply open up with Kalishnikovs from the side of the road.

The Post story reminded me of the time I spent riding with an Iraqi government minister as he kindly took me and my colleagues to see a beautiful natural spring in the country. I made some notes at the time which I reproduce below:

Unmarked, white Toyota landcruisers rocket down the highway, dodging and weaving around each other like a small swarm of bees. The cars are set to give a warning chime around 75 mph, which the driver either ignores or responds to by accelerating further. I watch for a foot to touch the brake and count the minutes — 5, 10, 15 and I stop counting. They never seem to brake, even when, as frequently, their front bumper is nearly touching the rear bumper of the car in front. At 90 miles per hour on a narrow road next to a steep gorge thousands of feet deep, they still don’t brake, even though the “guard rail” consists only of scattered stone blocks.

The drivers swerve constantly from side to side, even on two lane highways with traffic coming rapidly from the other direction. Each driver hugs the back left corner of the car in front of him, then the right. By design, no other car can come alongside any car in the convoy. A truck that tries is quickly boxed in and forced to slow down until we speed by.

After a series of bobs and weaves, another maneuver. Without any warning or a signal I can detect, a driver will accelerate even further and pass one or two other convoy members, which immediately fall in to line behind him. The rearmost car then begins its own sequence of bobbing and weaving, until it too makes the same move.

The logic slowly becomes clear: A convoy is a bit like three-card Monte. The ever shifting, nearly identical, always speeding cards are a game of “Government official government official, where is the government official?” Anyone attacking the convoy would be likely to guess incorrectly and only harm a car with unimportant people in it. Like me for example.

Author: Keith Humphreys

Keith Humphreys is the Esther Ting Memorial Professor of Psychiatry at Stanford University and an Honorary Professor of Psychiatry at Kings College London. His research, teaching and writing have focused on addictive disorders, self-help organizations (e.g., breast cancer support groups, Alcoholics Anonymous), evaluation research methods, and public policy related to health care, mental illness, veterans, drugs, crime and correctional systems. Professor Humphreys' over 300 scholarly articles, monographs and books have been cited over thirteen thousand times by scientific colleagues. He is a regular contributor to Washington Post and has also written for the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Monthly, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian (UK), The Telegraph (UK), Times Higher Education (UK), Crossbow (UK) and other media outlets.

2 thoughts on “Iraqis Give a Master Class in Defensive Driving”

  1. It always makes me warm all over to be reminded of our smashing success in Iraq…

  2. Patriarchy + too much testosterone = a culture where life is cheap

    No thanks.
    If men had any brains they’d sit down, shut-up, and let woman run things…

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