I likely am not exactly the person to write this post, but let’s be honest: there are plenty of differences between Driving in India versus Driving in the US! One of the major differences is the rules of the road. That is the major reason I do not drive in India. And that reason encompasses a lot more than meets the eye.
Rules of the road in India
Okay let me not say there are no rules of driving in India. Instead let us say that rules are flexible and seem to work on individual efficiency. In fact the biggest rule is that you have to do what people expect not what signs or my western driving experience believes is right. There are stop lights, but in general they are optional.
And, of course, cows, dogs and festival parties can’t follow stop lights. And you know those times when no one is around and you have to wait to go? No need to wait here! Heck even if people are if they delay, it is fair game to go next. Think a mob of teens heading to a Justin Bieber (or whomever is hot these days) free ticket pick up. Yeah lines no longer apply!
Next, when you head into many areas there are many modes of transport: bullock cart, human rickshaw, bike rickshaw, Victorian buggy, horse carriage, auto rickshaw, carn, tempo, tempo over filled with bhajji falling out, cars, motorcycles, motorcycles with a family of 5 on it, scooters, trucks… and the list goes on.
My kids have learned to dodge traffic with me… and I have been told by a rickshaw driver we see often told me it waa dangerous the way I cross the street. Yes, i cross, on foot, while carrying my 4.5 year old son, all 6 to 8 actual lanes of traffic… which really since people are merging in all directions it is more like 13 or 14 different ways to watch for traffic. Since I toldy husband he now drops us on the opposite side so we can fet a rickshaw quickly unless there isnt a “big eye” rickshaw, then we cross again. Yes my son has a bit of a rickshaw bias/preference. (Side note: a few know me as the white lady who only takes big eye rickshaws.. that is an entirely different post!)
I also can’t drive here because kids don’t stop playing for traffic and I still do not realize it. I assume they see a car. Then, hear the car and will stop playing… but they usually do not. I fear that I would make that assumption and hit a kid while they play in the road or parking lots. Heck I had it out with a bunch of tweens not too long ago. The society hired an extra guard to blow their whistle so kids would stop playing when cars were coming through. Well that didn’t prove helpful. Then the society proposed a rule to ban playing games. The thing is there aren’t really other places for kids to play! So the day before said meeting to discuss the change kids were playing soccer and other games and the whistle blew and not one kid payed attention. I stopped their game and asked them if they knew about the proposed rule. They did. I asked them if they knew why… there were a few head wobbles…. not sure. So then i said, they hired a guard to help you. If you hear the whistle stop playing! I told them follow the rules and you can still play. They said they were going to the meeting to ask to still play. My advice to them was follow the rules and tell them you will. A bit of a tangent but these are upper class families… the kids know how to follow lots of rules for school etc … but the rules of the road? Yeah I can’t drive here because what makes sense in my mind doesn’t make sense to others.
Then I think of the issue that I assume the point of new roads is to help make traffic move better and more efficiently. Yet, new flyovers are made. The design is a bit interesting and require u turns on free ways (yes i am talking about the new thane to Mumbai flyover on GB RD connecting Eastern Express Highway).. and because the design is bad and people don’t stay in lines they add rumble strips and speed bumps. These aren’t always marked so I am sure I’d run into issues. If you read the link in “u turns” you see that the news article says that the issue is that they didn’t make “speed arresters” – not the design is horrible. But one wouldn’t expect to be able to drive above 30 kmph (18 mph) on a free way, right? I think with the lack of people keeping in lines, (it is a 2 lane flyover (overpass)), you’re lucky to get that fast on the turn area! Then of course, there’s construction which is going on… ALL the time! And it takes a while. For example, the road will be dug up for new drainage pipes (yeah!) and then filled with large rocks and then tar made of large rocks are added and then quickly rolled upon… then a month later the area next to it is dug up and new fiber optic cables are added… and then that area is haphazardly filled… And then monsoon comes. So yeah… there are issues with the roads which would frustrate me. I know I had major road rage issues when I drove the DC beltway back before kids… so I’m not sure I’d react very positively to driving through construction in India.
Then when in a more rural area, I don’t always understand the additional rules. One I did figure out during a few panic/heart attacks when we drove to Dapoli (Konkan) area. But, it seems, flashing your lights at on coming traffic means i am coming through. If they are in your lane and they flash you it means slow down and let them through. There arent any real no passing zones. This works… until it doesn’t. Many people will tell you no seatbelts, no problems. Indians don’t frive very fast. If that is true then why is it that India registers the most road fatalities in the world? Some say it isnt the worst place but it surely it isn’t the safest! http://zeenews.india.com/news/nation/india-no-1-in-road-accident-deaths_704455.html
So besides the fact that the steering wheel is on the right (wrong) side of the car and you (generally) drive on the left side of the road… I just don’t get driving here. I dont get double or triple parking or people pooping on the overpass or passing school buses while kids are getting out. It seems Indians are perpetually running late so they need to make up time by driving down the wrong way of a one way street, you know instead of (wasting gas and time) to make a u turn 200 meters ahead. Since most drivers expect this to happen it seems as though this works… but for me it doesn’t… so I’d probably get pissed and stop cars on purpose who were driving the wrong way!
I sometimes feel like if i drove I’d be a bit Atlas Shrugged and feel the need to show people that their laziness shouldnt inconvenience me… and purposely find a way to make them lose time for “cheating” while driving. But really for a majority of India it works. Most people don’t seem to mind that very few people use walking paths. That there is encroachment and people break roads for temporary festival signs… that there is perpetual road construction. We have road construction around my building. The roads are fine during monsoon and there are much worse ones… yet mine is being fixed. I don’t get the decision making here and that it likely my problem… and not “theirs.”
The other thing that makes me squeemish is that if you do get in an accident, the basic rule is don’t check and try to help the others, especially if they’re hurt! Why? Because you risk a mob beating you up. Really. Honestly.
So, no… driving in India is not for me.