I have been driving for nearly 40 years. I drove in Boston where people are very aggressive and drive with one hand on the horn. In Texas, drivers are too busy checking their makeup, singing along with the radio or driving too fast to pay attention to the road. In India it is an entirely new and unique experience. Just don’t try this at home.

 

As the cars we hired in each city maneuvered through the heavy traffic, each vehicle vying for the next inch of space advantage, I was amazed that I began to understand how the traffic moved. Here are the key rules of the road:


The first rule of the road involves the use of the horn. You honk as you come up behind another vehicle (single short toot). You honk as you pass them (multiple short toots) and you honk as you cut in front of someone as you merge in around a turn (long toot). Finally the horn is also used when driving on the wrong side of the road, cutting in without right of way or doing something that is very risky (both long and short toots).

 

Bullock cart on the road competes with autos in India.

Bullock cart on the road competes with autos in India.

Even though lane markers and center stripes were painted on the larger roads at significant cost to the government, they are largely ignored. Since the vehicles are narrower than the lanes, they move over to make more (ad hoc) lanes to get more vehicles on the road and get them moving (supposedly) or snarl the traffic more completely (most likely). With cars of all sizes, auto-rickshaws, bullock carts, motorbikes, bicycles, why waste space that could otherwise be occupied?


Red lights don’t always mean stop. If you don’t see anyone coming on the cross street, why waste the time? Just go for it. At large intersections, the government installed timers so you can see the number of seconds remaining before the light turns red or green. That way you can start out maneuvering the next guy.


Next, there is a hierarchy of who or what gets the right of way. Cows because they are sacred are at the top of the list and no one bothers them. Next on the list are the big German cars followed by the other imported cars. They are new and expensive so they must be important. City buses take the right of way because they are huge and just roll down the streets. Next are the cabs followed, in order, by auto-rickshaws, bicycles and hand carts. Pedestrians are last because they have no horns or metal around them for protection. They can also jump out of the road.


Another rule is I have the right of way over you. Driving is a game of strategy, like multidimensional chess. Since there are so many vehicles on the road, I must win.

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