The Lao Way Of “Blinking”

How Lao people make efficient use
of their car lights…


Living and working in Laos, Luang PrabangPart of driving safely is letting  other motorists around you know your intentions, so they can predict what you will do. Using your turn signals is an efficient way of doing so. And it is not difficult. To signal a left turn you push the lever down. To signal a right turn you push it up. This is a widely accepted concept, even in Laos.

As much as you use the left and right turn signals in every day traffic, do you remember ever using the warning lights? I wouldn’t even know where the switch is in my own car. When you think about it, the warning light is like the slighted second child in the family, often neglected and seldom put to use.

From what I remember, hazard warning lights are designed to warn Living in Laosother drivers that your vehicle is experiencing a problem. Usually it means the vehicle is traveling at a reduced speed, is pulling off to the side, or is already on the shoulder. So when I saw this car in front of me using its warning signal at a main crossroad in downtown Luang Prabang, my adrenaline went up and I slammed on the brakes.

Well, Lao cars do sometimes have problems and pull over. But this one just continued at its normal speed and left me puzzled. In the following days I witnessed many cars that wouldn’t bother to slow down despite their exhaustive use of the warning lights.


I had to talk to a Lao friend.

And the solution was simple, yet astonishing.

Lao car owners took pity on the hazard warning lights for its neglectance and gave them a everyday significance. Like everywhere else in the world, the turn signal would still be used to indicate a turn. But as the rest of the world continues straight on at crossroads leaving others in the dark about their intentions,  Lao drivers take heart and reveal that they are going straight just by hitting the warning light button. And now, so do I.


Living in LaosLao Traffic Luang Prabang