Monday, November 7, 2011

Highway Driving in India

It's said that you need three things to drive in India: a good horn, good brakes, and good luck.

Horns are used incessantly in India to indicate that you are about to overtake and virtually never to show impatience or irritation. In fact, trucks usually have signs on the back requesting you to 'Blow Horn' or 'Horn Please'. A rear view mirror seems to be the appendix of an Indian vehicle, a vestigial organ of no discernible current use.

Turn indicators are also vestigial organs. However, manual turn indicators are sometimes used. On the busy road connecting Mumbai to Delhi we were trapped behind a long line of transport trucks which our driver deftly passed, often a few at a time. We were puzzled by the man hanging off the left hand side of a big touring bus in front of us standing on the running board. (Remember we're driving on the left hand side here). We finally figured out his task; after the big bus had overtaken a truck, his task was to warn trucks that the bus was coming back in to the left lane and the truck had to slow down to let him in.

Brakes are important because you never know when you're going to have to slow to a crawl for a piece of road that has been completely washed out by the monsoons or for a speed bump which may appear even in a 4-lane highway.  And then there are cows, sheep, goats, bullocks, camels, water buffalo, pigs, chickens, and dogs which may amble, stand or lie in front of you. Then there are the vehicles overtaking a car from the other direction and straying into your lane. The oncoming vehicle is expected to slow down to give the driver time to return to his own lane, or perhaps take to the shoulder to let him keep coming. Size matters in these contest. Everyone gives way to buses or trucks. Then come jeeps, cars and vans like ours. The auto-rickshaws are lower on the totem pole, and motorcycles and bikes bring up the rear.

Our driver was always alert, cautious and we were very thankful to have such a competent driver in these conditions.

Most of the accidents we saw were overturned vehicles, not too surprising, given that so many vehicles are wishfully loaded - 'I wish I had a vehicle that could legitimately carry this much stuff'. 

Whereas in Canada a pedestrian can be fined for jaywalking, in India, pedestrians always have right of way.  Simply walk into the road, raise your hand just above waist height and give a gentle to and fro waving motion and the cars (mostly) stop for you.

Driving - and crossing streets - in India is an adventure!

** Apologies to anyone who has read before.  I accidentally deleted several posts and am restoring them


UncleEvey said...

I think that the Indians drive with telepathy :)

Sumeet Mukherjee said...

The problem lies with implementation. Laws can be made but implementing them is a different story all-together.

a popular menace during night driving is the high-beam lights from the opposite end. People just don't know when to use the high beam and when the dipper.

Lib Gibson said...

And I didn't even have much driving at night. High-beam lights would indeed add an extra element of excitement!