Saturday, June 09, 2007

Driving in India

I've been a passenger or driver in several countries including the US, Mexico, Japan, Spain, France, Morocco, and India. Until I visited Morocco, I though Spanish driving was scary. Now that I've been in India, I think Moroccan driving is child's play.

Shreya, an Indian woman I know from the US, told me that she used to ride a motorcycle in India; about half of the vehicles on the road there are motorcycles. Since I used to ride a motorcycle back in college, I was actually thinking about renting one to travel around the city. After a few minutes of watching Indian traffic, I decided that I could find less painful ways to commit suicide.

As I rode in the car in India, I saw a narrowly-averted accident an average of about once a minute. After the first day, I honestly expected that by the end of my trip I would have witnessed several accidents in which a motorcycle or bicycle rider would be killed or maimed. I just didn't see how I could ride around in that traffic for ten days and not see such things.

It was so bad that at one point, I asked someone why there were lane markings on the road since the markers seemed to have no significance. Even the center lane line meant to keep oncoming traffic separate received minimal consideration. If the guy in front of you is going too slow, you go around. If there is no room on this side of the road, you just drive into oncoming traffic. And once you get your vehicle about half-way past the slow vehicle, you just merge back in and he has to slow down or get side-swiped. If the other vehicle is a motorcycle, this amounts to threatening their life to force them to let you in.

Another thing: if you stop for a red light when there is no cross traffic, you can expect a traffic cop to wave you through impatiently. No one stops for a red light unless there is heavy (and I mean HEAVY) cross traffic. If it's just light or medium cross-traffic then you edge your nose out there and force traffic to flow around you until you are through the intersection.

And yet, to my great astonishment, I didn't see one accident happen. The only explanation is that there are, all appearances to the contrary, some rules of the road that people follow. I couldn't figure them out entirely but one rule seems to be an extreme form of the last-chance rule in Arizona. In Arizona, if there is a traffic accident because someone broke the law (say they didn't stop at a red light, for example), the responsibility for the accident doesn't necessarily fall on them; it falls on the person who had the last chance to avoid the accident.

In India, it seems that you can do pretty much anything you want in traffic as long as you give the other vehicle a chance to avoid an accident. And it seems to work. Who'd a thunk it?

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