For example, Hungarians see nothing wrong with overtaking another vehicle at speeds of 140 kilometers per hour in blind, hairpin turns. This ties in to their overall lack of concern for speed limits, which most motorists here regard as strictly optional. Doing 200 kilometers per hour or more on highways with 130-kilometer speed limits is taken as a national duty. Tailgating other vehicles at distances of less than two centimeters is a national pastime. And cutting in front of other vehicles at the very last minute during lane changes and turns is merely par for the course. Thanks to their superior driving skills, Hungarians successfully manage these precarious maneuvers and thousands more, ninety-nine-point-nine percent of the time.
I have been driving in Hungary for nearly four years and during this time I have tried to find explanations for the foolhardy and unsafe manner in which most Hungarians choose to drive. I have made the following observation: Hungarians generally find the presence of other vehicles on the roads insulting and offensive, and they tend to regard their fellow motorists as nothing little than annoying obstacles whose only purpose in life is to be in the way. It is with sense of injury and insult that most Hungarians take to the road, which helps explain the palpable antagonism and irritation that hangs over most Hungarian roads like a cold, dawn fog. Everyone is familiar with the “Keep calm and carry on” posters the Brits created during the Second World War. I once saw a satirical version that read “I can’t keep calm; I’m Hungarian, damn it.” That pretty much sums up why the average Hungarian driver thinks it is perfectly acceptable to enter a traffic circle doing 90 kilometers per hour despite the clearly posted 30 km speed sign.
I have mentioned that Hungarians nearly always manage to pull off their incautious driving maneuvers, but nearly always is not always. Accidents are rare in Hungary, but when they do happen, they tend to be incredibly spectacular and destructive affairs inevitably involving fatalities. Drive past an average Hungarian accident scene and you would swear you were driving by an abstract sculpture exhibit or a scene from some Mad Max-style apocalypse film. As a result, small gravestones, wooden crosses, and other little tributes dot the shoulders of most Hungarian roads. I see a half-dozen or more of them every time I drive, regardless of the route I take.
Families of traffic accident victims erect these melancholy memorials at the accident sites, and then visit them with the same dedication and diligence they visit the actual graves. Recent memorials are often adorned with flowers. At night, candles illuminate the small smiling portraits encased in the granite and wood. You can see these memorials everywhere, and you would think they would serve as a warning, or have some effect on the way people over here choose to drive. But they don't. I sometimes stop at these little markers and spend a few minutes contemplating the hows and whys of these roadside deaths before continuing on my way. When I pull back onto the road, I am usually overtaken by some hotshot clocking 150 or more even though the posted speed limit is only 70. I respond by sighing and praying that my destiny in this world does not involve being memorialized on a small strip of gravel sandwiched between a corn field and a stretch of deadly roadway.