Driving in India



Some Indian rules of the road (seriously) (by Lonely Planet)
"- DRIVE ON THE LEFT  Theoretically vehicles keep to the left in India - as in Japan, the UK or Australia. In practice, most vehicle keep to the middle of the road on the basis that there are fewer potholes. If in doubt remember that traffic coming from the left has priority. So has traffic from the right, and also traffic in the middle. 
- OVERTAKING  In India it is not strictly necessary to ascertain that there is space to complete the overtaking maneuver before pulling out. Overtaking can be attempted on blind corners, on the way up steep hills or in the face of oncoming traffic. In fact on particularly dangerous bits of road this is mandatory. Every moving vehicle must at least try to overtake every other vehicle, especially if it has just overtaken you. Smaller vehicles unexpectedly encountered in mid maneuver can be expected to swerve apologetically out of the way. If a larger vehicle is encountered it is to be hoped that the overtakee will pull over, carrier off the road or otherwise make room for the overtaker.
- USE OF HORN  Although vehicles can be driven with bald tyres or non-existent brakes, it is imperative that the horn be in superb working order. Our surveys during research revealed that the average driver uses the horn 10 to 20 times per km, so a 100 km trip can involve 2000 blasts of the horn. A blast of the horn can mean anything from "I am travelling too fast to stop (and if you don't get out of the way, we shall both die)" (long desperate blast) to "hey you there in the bazaar, aren't you a friend of the brother of the guy I once met in Chennai ?" (casual blast) to "I haven't used my horn for several minutes" (bored blast). Signs prohibiting use of horns are not to be taken seriously.  
- SEAT BELTS  In the absence of seat belts, both drivers and passengers should wear garlands of marigolds, which must be kept fastened at all times."



Does it work ? 
In the beginning, we were both terrified and furious. Terrified at the kind of behaviour we saw on the roads, Furious at people putting our own safety at risk by their crazy driving. We thought this is a different country with a (very) different set of rules. All we need to do is to learn these rules and adapt. Their way of driving is different but, all in all, it must somehow work. Does it ? No it doesn't.



No it doesn't work. We have never seen as many smashed vehicles in any country of the world as during our 10,000 km through India. All of these wrecks on and along the road are accidents which have occurred in the last 24 hours. The reasons for accidents are numerous. The rules of the road above ARE the rules on the road in India. Indian vehicles DO NOT check if they can overtake. All larger vehicles than yours, i.e. especially trucks and buses will swerve out into your lane to avoid a pothole in theirs. In the little regulated or poorly enforced business of trucking, drivers are said to drink and take drugs. Many accidents are caused by drivers falling asleep, their vehicles just overturning in the ditch. The maximum legal authorised payload for trucks is the manufacturers recommendation + 25%. Needless to say many trucks must carry more than the extra 25%... "Most accidents are caused by trucks - for on Indian roads might is right and trucks are the biggest, heaviest and mightiest. You either get out of their way or get run down." (Lonely Planet). Bus drivers are said to be paid by the number of passengers they take and fined if they arrive late. This pushes them to block rival busses or scramble to overtake them causing reckless driving.



Another interesting concept is the following : "The Karma theory of driving also helps to push up the statistics - it's not so much the vehicle that collides with you as the events of your previous life that cause the accident. Therefore, the driver takes less responsibility for road safety than might normally be expected." (Lonely Planet)



The result ? "In India there are 70,000 road deaths per year, which is an astonishing total in relation to the number of vehicles on the road. In the USA, for instance, there 43,000 road fatalities per year, but it also has more than 20 times the number of vehicles." (Lonely Planet)



"If you are driving yourself, you need to be extremely vigilant at all times. At night there are un-illuminated cars and ox carts, and in the daytime there are fearless bicycle riders and hordes of pedestrians. Day and night there are the crazy truck drivers to contend with. Indeed, at night, it's best to avoid driving at all along any major trunk route unless you are prepared to get off the road completely every time a truck is coming in the opposite direction ! The other thing you have to contend with at night s the eccentric way in which headlights are used - a combination of full beam and totally off (dipped are virtually unheard of). A loud horn definitely helps since the normal driving technique is to put your hand firmly on the horn, close your yes, and plough through regardless. Vehicles always have the right of way over pedestrians and bigger vehicles always have the right of way over smaller ones." (Lonely Planet)


Another few rules of the road or tips (for those of you who might want to do a little Indiana Jones on Indian roads)
- INDICATORS  Indicators are another mystery of the Indian driving technique. When driving on any road in India (and thus driving on the left) putting your right indicator can mean several different things. It can mean "I am turning right" as it does in the West. It can also be put on for oncoming traffic only and mean "This orange flashing light is the outer limit of my vehicle. Don't crash into me." A very usual thing when wanting to slow down would be to put the right indicator with the meaning "Go on and overtake me, I am slowing down". Vehicles parked on the side of the road will put on their right indicator.
- TRAFFIC & USE OF HORN  The only vehicles to be considered on Indian roads seem to be those in front of you whether going in the same direction or not. Very few drivers check their mirrors to see what is happening behind them (there is already so much happening in front !). This means the overtaker is responsible to make his intentions clear by all possible means i.e. horning and flashing. Westerners like us get very annoyed at this kind of behaviour but there is no need to.
- SPEED BRAKERS  Or "sleeping policemen". These bumps crossing the whole width of the road are all over India. Problem is they are very rarely indicated and you will nearly always see them when it is too late. Worse, these bumps can appear in the middle of nowhere on a beautifully smooth double lane road with no village or house for miles. What happens ? Your passenger goes airborne and you damage your car... 
- I WANT THAT SPACE As with overtaking (Every moving vehicle must at least try to overtake every other vehicle), using every available space is another typical way of life on Indian roads. This is especially the case when traffic comes to a halt at a traffic light (if vehicles bother to stop) or at a train crossing. When stopping, it seems to be the duty of every driver to occupy any possible space. First the large vehicles, then the vans, then the cars, animal carts and rickshaws, then the bikes and pedestrians. All will cram into ANY available space. At train crossings, this means that the opposite lane will be occupied with traffic going your way. Of course, the same happens on the other side of the barriers. When the train has passed and the barriers open, two masses of vehicles both using both lanes are facing each other. Every single time we had to cross a train crossing, the same thing would happen. It would take several long minutes for traffic to slowly start to move.
- WHO ARE THE CRAZIEST ?  After so many thousand km, here is our verdict on the craziest vehicles in India : No 1 :  Military trucks. You're meant to give way to military traffic but it doesn't really matter. They usually drive very large 4x4 trucks. As these are well maintained, the drivers are not the owners and the drivers believe they are above the law, they usually drive like the worst of fools expecting all other vehicles to move out way in advance. No 2 : Long distance buses. These buses will overtake you when there is no space for them and squeeze you out of your spot. You either brake and give way or they will push you off the road. Don't expect them to stop if this happens. They really couldn't care less. To give you an indication of how angry we have been made on Indian roads, we have frequently wished for vehicles and the bastards at the wheel to end up against a tree or 100 m below in the ravine.


Using left and right lanes at the train crossing (left), complete chaos when the barriers go up (centre), bikes and pedestrians crossing under the barriers (right)


        - a slower car than you to stay behind you, if it can overtake you at any point, it will
        - courtesy because you are a foreigner trying to find your way in a city with no indications
        - braking lights to be in working order on the vehicle in front of you
        - vehicles to indicate they are slowing down/stopping
        - never drive at night
        - horn to overtake as early as possible (to give slow trucks time to more over)
        - wait for the slower vehicles' sign before trying to overtake 
        - remain calm, it's all a question of Karma !



Road surfaces in India
Our 10,000 km in India has presented us with many kinds of roads. From the Grand Trunk Road (linking Calcutta to Delhi to Amritsar) to mountain roads to the tiniest sand track in Rajasthan. India has no motorways. The closest it comes to we have seen is the Delhi-Jaipur road. Road surfaces range from smooth to obscene to sticky. We have driven through sand, in water, over rocks, macadam, mud, gravel and concrete.


A selection of road surfaces ranging from the smooth to the obscene to the sticky !



A few roads in India


The purpose is not the destination, it is the journey !


Troopie is still going strong !

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