May 2009
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Driving in India

Crank (film)
Image via Wikipedia

In my last post I listed the basic official rules for driving in India. Most of us drive like rules do not exist.  Here is my take on why/how some people drive the way they do in India and why the official road rules are not followed. These are tied to the road rules from my previous post. Why the “Crank” picture ? Read on to find out.

Keep Left:  Some motorists think they are in America since they “Keep Right” and hog the rightmost lane next to the median. Others are probably communist and therefore “Keep Left” and try to vehemently oppose any progress (passing) and want to involve labor unions before any passing even of vehicles is allowed.  The undecided ones keep switching from Left to Right and back and forth or just drive in the middle of the two lanes – simple.

Turning Left:  To turn into a road on the left, they stay close to the far right side of the road and make the turn only at the last minute. Making sure to cut across at least 2 lanes of traffic on a minimum. Reason :  If 3 or more lanes of traffic are cut across, it makes them instant heroes in the eyes of the local pretty damsels (ugly betties actually). After turning, they check if they can scare motorists on that road for a few minutes by driving in their lane before going back to the left side of the road.

Turning Right: When turning onto a road on the right side, they first approach the left side of the road, stop, and wait till a stream of fast moving vehicles approach. Then they show off their daredevilry by cutting across the vehicles speeding towards them. If they didn’t die from being hit by then and the vehicle is still moving, they proceed to cut across the speeding vehicles on the other side of the road. Bonus points if this is done with eyes closed in front of an interstate transport bus.

Passing:  If there is a need to pass traffic proceeding in the same direction, they always pass/overtake on whichever side has less space. Why ? Because the vehicle being passed would never think anyone would pass them there and therefore wouldn’t block the overtaking. Bonus points: Honking at the last minute when realization hits there isn’t enough space and scaring the driver of the vehicle being passed.

There is no ban on passing vehicles ever.  Danger/inconvenience to others is never thought about. All that should be thought of is getting to the destination a whole 5 minutes earlier.  If the driver behind has attempted to overtake – it means he is calling for a race. Allowing him to overtake  is the equivalent of dishonouring favorite family deities.  Proving that the vehicle being overtaken(usually grossly underpowered)  is more than a match for the vehicle attempting to overtake(usually adequately powered) and also preventing  this overtaking at any cost is mandatory. Life and limb of self and others being safe is not relevant – being able to boast of having “raced and beaten a larger and more powerful vehicle” is priceless.

The solid lines in the middle of the road mean nothing. Passing is to be done whenever felt like. Most usually after overtaking a vehicle at 80+ Kmph on hills and corners they may feel the need to slow down and stop at the left side of the road. Suddenly!  To explain this watch the movie “Crank” with Jason Statham . He is injected with a mysterious toxin which will destroy his heart and the only antidote is adrenaline leading to some hard to believe sequences.  I suspect these drivers have been injected with the same toxin and have to keep getting their heart rates as high as possible and then suddenly bring it back down again.

Right of Way: The vehicle that gets in front of traffic has the right of way. This is why all buffoons on small 25cc mopeds can cut across national highways and do a wiggle of the moped in front of high speed streams of cars and trucks. They are in front and therefore get the right of way. Every one else has to stop – they have brakes don’t they ?

Emergency Vehicles:  Fire Service Vehicles and Ambulances are to be allowed free passage only to create space just large enough for a vehicle behind them. Everyone knows that driving close behind the ambulance or fire service vehicle will cut down their commute time. Only stupid people who “do not know how to prosper” move to the side and waste such golden opportunities like some poor sod needing to be taken to the hospital by ambulance since he/she is dying.

Pedestrians:  Pedestrians at zebra crossings (and wherever they feel like crossing the road) play the roles of deer  in a hunting game. The vehicle drivers are hunters and their aim is to spot a good pedestrian at 100 feet and aim for them with the vehicle. (Will Smith in “I am Legend” chases deer in a Mustang GT). Honking repeatedly increases the thrill. Speeds should be as high as the vehicle supports. The pedestrian plays the act of the “deer in headlamps” very well. They also perform classical dance steps that they know, in the middle of the road and demonstrate their deep cultural and artistic background including sublime facial expressions of horror , fear and disgust. Don’t worry it is all an act. The younger ones can put Ussain Bolt to shame the way they dance out of trouble. Older slower pedestrians usually have to be watched out for as they do not play this game well and end up getting hurt. It is not much fun scraping pedestrians off SUV tires and bumpers.

Required Signals: The hand signals to be used are mentioned in point 13 of the rules of the road. People with air conditioned cars cannot keep opening the windows to use the hand signs so they just do not bother to use their vehicle indicators. Very few people in non- air-conditioned vehicles actually have the hands to use the hand signs.  Especially the Auto and bus drivers, these poor souls have to use other limbs to indicate their lane changes. Auto drivers without proper hands usually stick their legs out of whichever side they want to turn to. Sometimes the bus/truck drivers use their big toes pointing out of the bus windows to indicate their intention of turning. If they have fingers left on their hands, a few fingers may also be used to indicate their turning. This is usually done only at night so that people do not notice their disfigurement.

Indicators: Indicator lights can be smashed as soon as the vehicle is bought. This minimizes the need to use the indicators and the battery charge can be saved thereby extending the life of the battery. Pre-smashed indicator lights are a preferred dealer installed option package on large vehicles like buses and trucks and of course autos, and low budget two wheelers. 

“U” Turns:  “U” turns may be done whenever felt like. Doing so when explicitly prohibited by a sign adds a new heightened thrill to the act.  When there is traffic or if it is safe to do so or not is irrelevant. If they felt like taking a “U” turn, they just do it. It’s all cool – they showed their little finger or big toe correct? Then it is a safe turn – why make such a fuss?

Parking: When parking the vehicle they first make sure that it does not cause any inconvenience for themselves or their family. Other road users can figure out for themselves. Basically the goal is to park as close to where they need to go regardless of whether it is the cause of a bottleneck in traffic or cause a traffic jam for everyone else.

Registration: Having vehicle number plates displayed is not advisable in India since the police could actually track people down for prior driving violations. Since it is not legal to drive without plates, make sure the plates rust in such a way that just the outline of the plates and something that looks like a number remains. This is the preferred option for cargo vehicles and trucks. If it is a fancy new vehicle with private plates the previous approach will not work. The nearest “rice writing” expert will be glad to write the registration number on a grain of rice in “Comic Sans MS or Times Roman” font and stick it onto a regulation number plate. Though costlier than the standard number plates this is a novelty plate and will make sure the vehicle stands out. The free magnifying glass provided by the rice writer will come in handy if there is a doubt while trying to locate the vehicle in a parking lot since this is getting really popular.

One Way Roads: On “One Way” roads, if travel is required in the direction indicated on the road signs then things are cool. If the direction of travel is in the opposite direction then either drive in reverse or just drive on the edge of the road – people are cool they will understand the driver is a cool dude who cannot be bothered to drive around half the city because of some stupid one way sign. Just show the peace sign while doing so re-affirms coolness.

Driving in reverse:  Ever since Tyrese Gibson acting as Roman Pearce drove in reverse in “2 Fast 2 Furious” every driver in Chennai has had a secret wish to drive in reverse. They do this every chance they get. Especially on divided highways where the spot for the “U” turn is over 10 feet in the wrong direction our local “Romans” drive in reverse to save a few drops of fuel and therefore save money and the environment. This skill in driving in reverse can also be used for “One Way” streets.

Stop Lines:  Those white lines perpendicular to the flow of traffic are markings on the roads to indicate the starting point for races with other vehicles.  The races are typically multi-segment races all on the same road, I mean track where cars, bikes, cycles, trucks buses can participate. The race starts when the “race” signal lights counting downwards flash “3-2-1-GO” just like in F1, NASCAR etc.  The objective of the race is to reach the next starting point capturing a good pole position. Each and every junction can start a race and our drivers live life “a quarter mile at a time”. Vin Diesel would be so proud if he only knew. Vehicles who have missed a favorable pole position indicate their frustration at a poor starting point by honking at those with a better pole position. Just like the 3rd installment of Fast & Furious featured drift races in Tokyo, Fast & Furious 5 will definitely be based in India and will feature these races.

Noise: Drivers have to keep sounding the horn as that is the only way their safety is assured as their brakes do not work. If someone is honking continuously please – understand they will not be able to avoid an accident unless given way to pass. There are no “no-honking zones” since it is not safe to drive without honking. Sick dudes/dudettes in hospitals should go away to remote villages or the mountains if they want peace and quiet. What will happen to them because of a million honks? They will wake up? Or die? Bah – humbug this whole silence thing is overrated!

Loud exhausts are usually due to mufflers rusting away to create the loud sounds. This is another safety feature as it minimizes the need to keep honking.  I wonder why people make such a fuss about loud exhausts. Only stupid people go pay money to get their exhausts louder and claim to have “tuned” their cars when all that is required is to encourage the natural rusting process. If rusting is not a natural process, people in such cities can resort to poking nice wide holes in the muffler or removing them altogether. It “adds” horsepower 😉 and lots of it and actually more of bull excrement than horse power.

Traffic Lights & Signs:  Obey the traffic signal lights when there are traffic policemen or designated /authorized people present and checking is going on. Otherwise the lights are there to add some color to otherwise boring roads and to kick off races. The amber light is not required at all – removing that from signals across the country would save a lot of power for India. The reds and greens are interchangeable after the cops go home till the time they get back on the beat.

Following Distance: As long as the front bumper has a hairs width gap from the rear bumper of the vehicle in front it is a sufficient gap. If the vehicle in front stops suddenly, the best approach is to loudly and repeatedly accuse the driver of the vehicle in front of “putting sudden brake”.  The person who was driving in front becomes at fault when those magic words are spoken.

Loading: Vehicles should be loaded as much as possible in all possible directions and as long as the vehicle can still move it is fine. Protruding objects like sharp iron rods can be marked by one tiny red hankie or if not found a tiny white polythene cover should do just fine. The sky is really the limit for vertical stacking. Two to three feet to the sides can also be used for loads. All those crazy people who build flyovers and run low cable/telephone wires across the streets need to get their heads examined. Why are they obstructing the free flow of load bearing vehicles just trying to make a living ?

Documents to be carried/ produced on demand: The person driving the vehicle is to always carry just one form of documentation in the form of sufficient amounts of cash in denominations of 10s, 20s, 50s and 100s. As long as this is present no other vehicle documents are required. When these documents are demanded by any Police officer in Uniform, Officers of the Motor Vehicles Department in Uniform or by any officer authorized by the Government, the driver has to start low and start handing out 10s, then 20s etc till such time the thirst of the person demanding the documents is satisfied. The higher the rank of the person demanding the document requires a paper with a higher number written on it to start.

Request: Please do NOT follow these driving practices as this is NOT the way to drive. If you drive this way please do NOT drive a vehicle and just take public transport or do not leave your home until you learn the official rules and really Drive Safe!

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