I recently spoke with the Inspector of Traffic Police for Chennai and asked him what advice he would give foreigners who want to drive in India.
He said, “Don’t do it.”
Still, there will be some of us sick souls who insist on our freedom and are willing to put our lives and sanity at risk.
But before you get into the wrong side of the car, realize you are in the passenger’s seat, get out, and get behind the driving wheel, you must acknowledge these three things:
- Driving in India will definitely increase the frequency of culture attacks you will experience
- Driving in India will increase the likelihood that you will kill someone or something (intentionally or unintentionally)
- You must completely forget everything you know about driving.
Driving in India is a lesson in anarchy. But if anarchy is like Indian roads, then it is not so bad once you get used to it.
Lucky for you, I found a great *old Indian driving manual at the RTO. I’ve posted some excerpts you might find helpful.
General Driving Guidelines:
When driving, you should assume at all times that everyone around you is suffering from a severe mental disease that makes them either suicidal or homicidal. For example, when you are driving down a road in very fast traffic and notice a car waiting to merge, it is best to assume this deranged driver will plan on pulling out in front of you, slowing to a stop, and then making an illegal U-turn. Once this assumption becomes common for you, you will find driving much more pleasurable. As a driver, your only obligation is to concern yourself with what is ahead of you. Do not refer to the side nor rearview mirrors. Keep moving forward at all costs, and do not stop for any reason whatsoever.
Regarding Right of Way:
In every conceivable traffic situation, you always have the right of way. If you decide to ever relinquish this God-given right, these are the acceptable parties you can give it to: -Vehicles larger than you -City buses and water tankers whose drivers enjoy immunity in all situations -Cows If there is a conflict on who has the right of way, the party with the least to lose will be granted the right of way (i.e. those with no concern for human life, those who are only hired drivers, those who already have scratches on their car, those who are very late for something very important).
At some intersections, there will be a traffic signal. At times, there will also be electricity for the traffic signal. You should always obey a working traffic signal unless: -You are in a hurry -You choose not to -The person in front of you chooses not to If you happen to find yourself at a red traffic signal, proper etiquette is to stop, and then slowly inch forward into the intersection. At some point, you will realize you have gone too far into the intersection, and you may as well continue through and be on your way. Follow the diagram below.
If you are stopped at an intersection and cannot see the traffic signal, do not panic. You will know when it is your turn to go because there will be an old woman or child who will start slowly walking in front of you at the precise time the light changes. Once the signal changes to green, do not go immediately, or you will hit the crossing traffic that has not yet stopped. If there is no traffic signal, no electricity, or no traffic cop, kindly refer to the Right of Way rules.
Regarding Traffic Police:
Traffic police are there to enforce these unwritten rules. They are also there to enforce some written rules as per convenience of the situation and the suggestion of their superiors. Unwritten rules apply every day, but you will not know which written rules apply on which days. If a traffic policeman signals for you to pull over, you have two options: 1.) Pull over 2.) Continue driving If you choose to pull over, speak politely to the traffic policeman. If you are driving late at night, he may ask you to breath into his state-of-the-art breathalyzer (aka his nose). He will use this equipment to measure your blood alcohol content down to the age of whisky you had. Should the policeman struggle to give you a complicated reason for pulling you over and should you appear to be in a hurry, there is a chance that the policeman might suggest a simple solution to the problem you have encountered, which is usually in multiples of Rs. 100. If you are uncomfortable with his solution, then ask for a printed ticket for whatever fine you have committed. Most traffic policemen are genuinely nice people operating in a very grey system.
Regarding specific vehicles to avoid:
Some drivers qualify for an Aggressively Hostile Operator License. They usually will be driving larger vehicles like the Tata Sumo or the Mahindra Scorpio, and often will have flags of a local political party on their hood. These drivers have learned special techniques, such as how to install shockingly loud horns, how to hold down the horn at all times, how to drive ridiculously fast, and how to cut others off in traffic. They also employ a technique known as “dazzling” the lights, which entails flashing the high beam lights on and off again. Dazzling can be used in the night or day. It can be used to scare a car from behind that the driver is about to pass or to scare oncoming traffic encountered while driving in the wrong lane. These drivers will constantly use the high beams at night. If it helps them see the road better, who cares if it blinds all oncoming traffic? Kindly allow this classification of driver to pass you as quickly as possible, and resist the urge to “teach them a lesson”.
Regarding the use of the horn:
The horn is to be used in the following situations: -When you want to pass someone -When you are passing someone -When you feel that someone is being a jerk -When you wish someone would go faster -When you are pretty sure that someone is going to pull out in front of you -When they do pull out in front of you -When someone is not proceeding through a red light properly (see above) -A few seconds before a light turns green in order to alert the driver 6 cars ahead of you that he might want to think about getting ready -When you plan on going through a red traffic signal -When you are going the wrong way on a one way road -When someone else is going the wrong way on a one way road -When you have not used your horn in a few minutes All other uses should be avoided.
Regarding making a left turn (merging into traffic):
If you are making a left turn into traffic, the appropriate way to merge is to keep your head forward at all times and do not acknowledge any near-death experiences about to happen.
Regarding making a right turn (turning across traffic):
You may employ a similar technique as the one used at intersections. Slowly creep forward into oncoming traffic until someone feels you have no longer any respect for your own life and gives you the right of way. The following lanes are considered appropriate to turn from if you need to make a right turn. Kindly do not use any other lane other than approved lanes.
Please respect the lanes of travel that are going in the opposite direction as traffic reserved for pedestrians as shown below.
It is best to leave kindness for other areas of life. When you are merging with traffic and someone else seems to be trying to get in front of you, simply refrain from any eye contact and keep as close as you can to the car in front of you. If you don’t, there will be fifty other cars waiting to follow them and you will have upset the eco-balance of the road. It is considered mostly acceptable to stop for children and old aunties who are crossing the road, provided they use their hand to tell you to stop.
*I realize that satire doesn’t always translate well. There is no old manual, so please don’t ask me for the rest of it.