Thursday, February 01, 2007

There and Back Again - Part 4

I have been driving for over ten years now and I have had some great commutes in my time and some not so great commutes. Indeed some of them were downright horrendous. I get a little frustrated when I sit in traffic for no apparent reason. I mean isn't it aggravating to be slowed on the highway for miles on end only to get to the jump off point and realize that there is nothing there? I had actually sat in some pretty hefty traffic on my way home before leaving for the airport to go to India so I was rather done with traffic for some time, or so I thought. You see, I had forgotten that I was on my way to one of the most traffic-ridden areas in the world, India.


I have been to Bombay a number of times over the years and in that time, even I have noticed the way traffic has been increasing in density. Part of this is due in part to the fact that there has been such an upturn in the economy that people are doing much better today than they were a decade ago. Due to this increase in spending power and the relative abundance of cars in the market in India (thus creating competition and creating price competition) many families who used to have only one family car or else relied on public transportation now have two, three or even (in some cases) four cars for the family. On the other hand, the infrastructure of roads and highways still supports levels that were okay back in the 60's. As a result, there are a tremendous number of cars vying for small tracts of road space. The result? Instant moving gridlock.


Now you may wonder how it is that gridlock can be moving? Well if you take note of the picture included with this blog, you will see cars seemingly moving in all directions at once. This is not due to a traffic light malfunction or some other reason, this is normal, everyday traffic. The concept of yielding seems to have been left out from the vocabulary of many drivers in India and so, as my dad says, the concept of 'might is right' rules the road. Have to cross an intersection? Begin by nosing your way out into the road. Slowly proceed until you have a good head of steam and then at a stately pace, clear the intersection and continue on your merry way. Traffic lights? Check them but if it's getting close to turning green, you can move, even if it's still red. The amazing thing is that here people would get outraged and complain; there traffic continues moving. There seems to be a need for people to constantly be in motion over there.


The rules on the road, and I use the term very loosely, equate to the rules of the ski slope to me. On a ski slope the general rule is that the person in front of you has the right of way, so if you are behind them, you are responsible to move around them safely or maintain good spacing. Now anyone who has ever driven will tell you that tailgating is dangerous at low speeds and deadly at higher speeds. In India this is often elevated to an art. I have a theory that if some NASCAR team is willing to give it a chance, there are a number of drivers in India who will give some of the best drivers here a run for their money. Give a driver a car and they'll juke and jostle their way to their destination. Give a driver a fast car and he'll do it with speed while leaning on the horn and narrowly avoiding disaster.


Lane discipline is a thing of legend. If the road is a three lane road you can almost always expect to see a line of nearly seven or eight cars across the road. At traffic lights when the traffic does stop, people begin to move up to the front in an effort to get a jump on the race to the next light. Cars usually arrive first, then the taxis, then the three-wheeled rickshaws, then the motorcycles and bicyclists and finally the pedestrians and push-cart people, all vying for the the chance to be 'first off of the line'. In the end, the jump is marginal and due to the mess at the front, very few cars actually make it through the intersection before the light changes again.


Some may think that I'm being overly critical or scathing in what I'm saying but it's a fact that traffic in Bombay is bad. It's even worse in Pune where the driving population at large seems to have moved from the bicycle to car in one step. There the road discipline is even worse than anywhere in Bombay. One can argue that the drivers themselves are to blame but I have seen people from India come here and drive in a safe and sane manner. It's just that competitive edge that comes out when they're on the road in India. I guess it's that feeling that perhaps the other guy is thinking he's better than me when he's not. Some may argue that it is the low-educated rickshaw drivers and taxi drivers causing the mayhem but I have seen owners of fancy Mercedes' (the owners not their hired drivers) pulling off manuevers that would leave James Bond in shock.


I think that the roads can be improved if one day a massive unit comes in and starts laying down the law. I can't count the number of times I saw police pull cars over for 'jumping the light' or 'going through red' only to see them drive of moments later after either slipping the officer a little something or doing smooth talking. Try that here and you're liable to end up in jail. Experts are saying that in coming years India will become one of the top economies in the world. I don't doubt it, in fact I think it could happen sooner rather than later. But, if the infrastructure of the cities and suburbs doesn't improve, it's all for naught. When a good standard of living is implemented in with a strong economy, there is even more motivation to produce. It's not out of the realm of possibility. The people of India just need to give it a chance. I love going to India; I think I and other visitors would love it even more if we didn't spend so much time in traffic.

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1 Comments:

At 6:40 AM, Anonymous http://driving-india.blogspot.com said...

Much of the world wide web is full of sarcasm & mocking of driving on Indian roads.

This site http://driving-india.blogspot.com/ has been created with the purpose of providing driver education and training rather than criticism.

At present I have produced and made available 17 driver education videos aimed at changing the driving culture on Indian roads are available. To watch the videos, please visit: http://driving-india.blogspot.com/

The videos cover the following topics:

Video 1: Covers the concept of Blind spots
Video 2: Introduces the principle of Mirrors, Signal and Manoeuvre
Video 3: At red lights, stop behind the stop line
Video 4: At red lights there are no free left turns
Video 5: The Zebra belongs to pedestrians
Video 6: Tyres and Tarmac (rather than bumper to bumper)
Video 7: Merging with the Main road
Video 8: Leaving The Main Road
Video 9: Never Cut Corners
Video 10: Show Courtesy on roads
Video 11: 5 Rules that help deal with Roundabouts
Video 12: Speed limits, stopping distances, tailgating & 2 seconds rule
Video 13: Lane discipline and overtaking
Video 14: Low beam or high beam?
Video 15: Parallel (reverse parking) made easy
Video 16: Give the cyclist the respect of a car
Video 17: Dealing with in-car condensation

Many thanks

 

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