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Bacolod City, Philippines Saturday, October 14, 2017
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Come to think of it
with Carlos Antonio L. Leonardia

Euro Truck Simulator


A couple of months ago my son asked if he could download a free game during a sale on the computer gaming platform Steam. It was free so I let him have it, although I was curious why a 12-year-old would be interested in a game called Euro Truck Simulator.

Anyway, he gave it a go, and after a few hours of playing around, he got tired of it. I was watching him play and it was interesting to see how a Filipino kid knew about driving in a simulated European setting. I watched him play the game and break so many traffic rules while driving an unwieldy truck in narrow roads, all the while earning penalties as he bumped into other cars because of his poor driving knowledge. Driving a truck using a keyboard and mouse didn't help either. Soon he got bored of it and the game was left in the pile of ignored free or super cheap Steam games living within our computer.

The game got my attention because of the good reviews so I also decided to give it a whirl. I started playing a truck driving simulator on the roads of Europe.

I have already logged several playing hours on the Euro Truck Simulator and while the grind of driving using a keyboard has started to become tedious, my transportation-system-aware mind gleaned a lot of insights from the way Europeans design their highway system.

Simulators imitate reality. While the keyboard and mouse setup for driving may have put a serious dent on the immersiveness of the experience, the game gave me a very realistic feel for the highways of Europe.

What struck me most about European highways as presented by the simulator was how narrow they are compared to their American counterparts. As a Filipino whose idea of an idealized highway system is the American freeway, I would've thought the truck sim highways were unrealistically narrow if I hadn't encountered an actual European highway before.

My extensive simulated truck driving travels in Europe and the UK showed me that a lot of their highways are 2-per-way affairs. It is mind boggling how they are able to make it work efficiently because we Filipinos cannot even make our own 2 lane highways work properly and instead of improving the system, our solution to this chaos simply adopts the American model sans the enforcement of rules, defaulting to endless road widening projects all over the country.

The biggest difference between the narrow Euro Truck Sim highways and our highways is discipline. When playing the simulator, I have to observe the rule of always staying in the right lane of the highway and using the left or outmost lane only to overtake. When all the vehicles on the highway travel close to the recommended speed or speed limit, everything moves along efficiently. There are no slow vehicles, tricycles, small motorcycles on their highways. PUV's do not stop anywhere they please and pedestrian lanes do not exist on their highways. In other words, their highways are properly engineered and the rules are strictly enforced.

The efficiency despite the narrowness of the highway system was one of the things that impressed me when I was in the UK a couple of years ago. They didn't need supersized highways. They just had disciplined and properly licensed drivers who operated well maintained vehicles that could travel at the recommended speed limit safely.

What we have in the Philippines, especially the rural areas like our island, are none of the above. We have no highways. Those “impressive” 2-3 lane roads between Silay and Bacolod may look like highways based on the total number of lanes but they are so terribly designed and managed that they are essentially farm-to-market roads. Pedestrian lanes and turn slots are everywhere. All kinds of vehicles travelling at all sorts of speeds are allowed. Lanes mean nothing. Traveling at speed is dangerous. Enforcement is non-existent. We have sidewalks instead of shoulders. Efficient travel is not a consideration.

Europeans have among the best highway systems in the road despite the narrowness of their highways. If you come to think of it, in couple of years, our roads and “highways” should be wider than theirs if we continue widening widening widening as we build build build. However, no matter how many lanes we add, travel will always be more efficient on their narrow roads because they have rules and discipline and we don't.

Their highway rules are actually quite simple. Stay in your lane. Keep the leftmost/outermost lane open for overtaking only. Drive as close to the recommended speed limit as you can so you don't slow everybody else down. Change 1 lane at a time.

I do not see why our government cannot impose those simple rules on our highways. Maybe it is because we don't design or build highways. We just build roads and let anyone who drives anything figure out how to use it.

Playing a driving simulator gets old after a while. The grind can be tedious and boring and the satisfaction of successfully delivering a payload without traffic violations or damage penalties can wear off after some time. I played it because I became curious of how the Europeans built and managed their highway system. I guess I kept playing because I wanted to find reasons why we couldn't do the same.

After more than a hundred hours of “research” playing Euro Truck Simulator, I still haven't found any reason why our roads couldn't be managed or redesigned to be better. I should stop playing before I become even more frustrated.*

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