A Foreigner’s View on Driving in India

As I got into the taxi the other night, I automatically reached for the seatbelt, forgetting that even though there are belts in the back of vehicles in India, the buckles are impossible to find. This taxi had a really pretty interior, white with red roses and it was all kind of laminated with plastic. Very vintage/retro/hippy, it was cool. The rickshaws also sometimes are individually decorated, one had green fairy lights on the inside and we asked him to play music (he played an Indian love song) here is the slogan that was written at our feet.

Anyway,  there are just sooooooo many people out on the roads, even at night there are rickshaws, taxis, cars and pedestrians (even if there is a pavement, people still walk on the road next to the cars). It was a shock at first because it’s so different to the driving style in the UK. Slowly I am getting used to the driving style in India, here’s what I make of it and the rules I think exist.

1. There are no rules. Do what you like, when you like and how you like. If you’re on the expressway and you need to get something out of the boot, just stop your car, get out and get it. If you see a small gap between two cars that you want to get through, beep your horn and go through (I’ll come back to the horn later). If you have a family of seven and only a five seater car, squeeze them all in.

2. If you see lane markings, ignore them. They are pointless anyway. You have to use all the space available on the road, especially when there is traffic. If people stuck to the ‘one car per lane’ thing, the tailbacks on the Western Express Highway would be endless. So across the three ‘lanes’ you have to fit as many vehicles as possible, the average being 4 cars, 2 rickshaws and a motorbike.

3. Following the road signs are optional. This includes speed limits, no honking zones, no U-turns, no overtaking and anything else. I’ve seen taxi drivers going at 100km/h when the limit speed limit is 30km/h. Overtaking always happens and nobody pays any attention to the no honking zones.

4. Me, myself and I. Unsure has the right of way at an unmarked junction? You do! No matter if you’re at a crossroads turning right, turning left or going straight ahead, it’s each man for himself. You always have the right of way and you can go any way you like, even if you cut others up, pull out on oncoming cars or if you’re reversing.

5. Beeping your horn is absolutely necessary at all times of the day, at any and every junction. It is a way to interact with other people on the road. Nearly all of the larger vehicles and trucks have written across the back in large colourful letters “HORN OK PLEASE” or “BLOW HORN” as they need other drivers to communicate with them. When the horn beeps, it can mean any (or several) of the following things:

  • Hey, pedestrian, watch where you’re going!
  • Pedestrian, move out of my way!
  • Doggy, be careful on the road!
  • Move to the left, I’m coming past you
  • Move to the right, I’m coming past you
  • I’m going to overtake you
  • I’m going to undertake you
  • Why are you going so slow?
  • I’m driving across these crossroads and I’m not going to look left or right, so I hope nobody is in my way
  • Drive faster!
  • I’m stuck in traffic and it’s not moving, so I’m gonna honk to show my frustration!
  • I’m going to pull out on you
  • Why did you pull out on me?
  • Why are you doing a 3 point turn in the middle of the road?
  • You are an idiot
  • Who taught you how to drive?
  • You almost scratched my car
  • Why did you stop in the middle of the road?
  • Etc
The list goes on, but those are the main ones. Mumbai roads are constantly noisy, with trucks driving at all hours, people beeping their horns and the partying rickshaw drivers who have speakers in the back, blasting out the Bollywood tunes on the road.

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